What You Need To Know About Obama’s Energy Secretary Nominee Ernest Moniz

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"What You Need To Know About Obama’s Energy Secretary Nominee Ernest Moniz"

President Obama nominated MIT physicist Ernest Moniz as Secretary of Energy to replace outgoing Steven Chu. In his announcement, Obama called Moniz a “brilliant scientist” who “knows that we can produce more energy and grow our economy while still taking care of our air, our water, and our climate.”

Here is where the nominee stands on the most important energy issues:

Climate Change and a Price On Carbon: According to the Washington Post, Moniz is “alarmed about climate change and devoted to funding scientific research into low-carbon alternatives to fossil fuel.” In a video interview, Moniz said, “What I believe is if we squeeze down on carbon, we squeeze up on cost, and it brings along a push toward efficiency; it brings along with it a push toward clean technology; it brings along with it a push toward security,” he said. A 2011 MIT gas study calls for greenhouse pollution reductions greater than 50 percent.

Energy Efficiency: A sign the DOE will continue to prioritize energy efficiency is Moniz’s own words on the topic. “The most important thing is lowering your use of energy in ways that actually save you money,’ he said. ‘It sounds trivial, but putting out lights really does matter.”

Solar Energy: He describes himself as “bullish” on solar energy. According to Solar Freedom Now, “He ‘gets’ the practical realities of solar R&D,” and has advised a number of solar finance and technology companies.

Nuclear Energy: Moniz has been embraced by the Nuclear Energy Institute, a lobbying group, for his long-time support of the industry. In 2011, he wrote that it would be a “mistake” to allow Japan’s nuclear disaster to “cause governments to abandon nuclear power and its benefits” due to his belief that nuclear power can be a partial solution to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions in the long-term.

Natural Gas: Moniz wrote that “natural gas truly is a bridge to a low-carbon future” in an academic report. He favors its use as “bridge” to transition to renewables: “For the next several decades, however, natural gas will play a crucial role in enabling very substantial reductions in carbon emissions.” But Moniz also warned that natural gas could slow the growth in clean energy.

Fracking: The Energy Department would have no jurisdiction over fracking policy even though Moniz supports the controversial drilling technique. Moniz has been criticized for a pro-fracking MIT report bankrolled by oil and gas companies. However, the MIT study also supports mandatory disclosure of fracking chemicals.

Some groups, such as Public Citizen and Food & Water Watch, have criticized Moniz over his support for natural gas and hydrofracking, since neither are particularly good for the environment or climate. According to The Hill, none of the largest environmental organizations opposes his nomination. The Sierra Club expressed hesitancy that “an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy policy only means more of the same.”

Following Obama’s announcement, Natural Resources Defense Council released a statement of support that said, “Professor Moniz has the hands-on experience and the expertise needed to help further the climate and energy goals our country urgently needs. His background, coupled with his long history of constructive engagement with, and at, the Energy Department, will serve the American people well.” Republicans like Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AL) also back Moniz’s nomination, calling him someone “we could work with.”

ThinkProgress War Room Senior Climate/Energy Researcher Tiffany Germain contributed research to this post.

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23 Responses to What You Need To Know About Obama’s Energy Secretary Nominee Ernest Moniz

  1. rollin says:

    Oh boy, we are in real trouble now. This guy is definitely an “all of the above” energy pusher. If he’s everybody’s friend he will not do what is needed. So put out those lights and expect higher prices at the pump.Hope next winter is a warm one.

    • With people like Moniz we get growth in alternative energy and efficiency. But we also end up with only minor reductions in overall carbon emissions. Worse, we likely also end up with increasing world carbon emissions as the US again cedes leadership on the key issues of greenhouse gas reduction and alternative energy investment.

      Better than the pure carbon guy the republicans would likely put in. But not one to push the kind of rapid progress we need.

  2. Ken Barrows says:

    “knows that we can produce more energy and grow our economy while still taking care of our air, our water, and our climate.”

    Geez, President Obama, get off the growth already! If push comes to shove, mitigating climate change is front and center and a couple of percent on the GDP is less than trivial.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Exactly, ken. Obama’s observation is, as you would expect, self-contradicting gibberish. And we know, with absolute certainty, that we will get more energy and economic growth, but the bit about ‘taking care’ of the environment is pure PR astro-turf bulldust. Unless, of course, you are thinking of the Mafia’s use of the term ‘taking care of’.

  3. I’ve not done this before, but I’m reposting my comment from another CP article I read earlier today. The comment is more directly appropriate here, and should add to this discussion.

    Unfortunately, I think all the “serious people” in this society are seriously bought, and this guy Moniz doesn’t seem to be any exception. He talks a good game about renewables but is laying out a strategy for a decades-long transition through the “natural gas bridge.” We don’t have decades to keep spewing carbon into the air, and if he’s the hotshot scientist he’s made out to be, he knows that. I wonder where he stands on the Keystone pipeline?

    Here’s my earlier comment:

    Unfortunately, I don’t think we can expect much from Obama. His State Department just came up with a report — based on God knows what — claiming that the Keystone pipeline won’t facilitate and hasten the development of Alberta’s tar sands. This in the face of Canadian industry claims that it will and is necessary for just that reason. This will be Obama’s excuse to green light the project.

    Additionally, he just nominated Earnest Moniz to replace Chu at the DOE. A nuclear engineer who has apparently shown no interest in renewable development or energy efficiency, Moniz heads up an Energy Initiative at M.I.T. From Today’s NY Times:

    “And the studies [Moniz directed] over the last 10 years, were not always right; the 2003 study on nuclear power, for example, underestimated the price of building a new reactor by at least half.”

    “Like many academic leaders, he has strong ties to industry, some of them certain to draw fire now. The Energy Initiative recently announced that ENI, the Italian oil company, had renewed its participation as a founding member, and would contribute at a level that “significantly exceeds the founding member support level of $5 million per year.” The other corporate founding members are BP, Shell and Saudi Aramco. Other sponsors include Chevron and several utilities, including the parent company of Southern California Edison, Entergy, Duke Energy and Électricité de France, all nuclear reactor operators.”

    He’s been called a “known cheerleader” for fracking.

    And finally from the Times: “[Moniz] was the associate director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Clinton White House. At the Energy Department, he led a major effort to determine how the nation would maintain its stockpile of nuclear weapons without test explosions…”

    Back to the 1950s.

    As someone commented here on CP — now that Obama no longer needs our climate hawk and environmental votes, be prepared to be thrown under the bus.

    • MarkF says:

      ““And the studies [Moniz directed] over the last 10 years, were not always right; the 2003 study on nuclear power, for example, underestimated the price of building a new reactor by at least half.””

      That would be a positive, from Obama’s point of view.

      Obama is a disaster.

    • Superman1 says:

      “I think all the “serious people” in this society are seriously bought”. Bingo! All the people who rise to the top in government, industry, and academia go through a filtering process. While there is a threshold level of competence required, the real determinant is ‘loyalty’. Those who know how the game is played are the survivors. Don’t expect any of these nominees to be unfriendly to industry; those who are were weeded out a long time ago.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Precisely Philip. Obama is second term, so no longer needs to sucker the ‘Hope Fiend’ patsies any more. His prime task now is to so thoroughly demoralise the idealists who voted for him that they will stay away at the mid-term Congressional elections. So he will be kicking a lot of sand into your faces, over the environment and the destruction of social welfare in the name of ‘deficit reduction’ in particular.

  4. fj says:

    Yes, advocacy for nuclear, fracking and gas is far from optimal but a really accelerated buildout of solar photo voltaic and clean energy with the ability to deflect criticism and obstructionist scrutiny will provide incremental benefit unfortunately not nearly enough at this late stage…

  5. M Tucker says:

    It should be obvious that we will be getting more of the same from Obama and whoever he selects for Energy or State or whatever cabinet post has a dog in the climate fight. The only benefit we have with Obama compared with a Republican administration is that Obama will continue to fund wind, solar, and biofuels while Republicans would end government subsidies for them. Do not expect any big regulations to limit CO2 emissions. Small solutions and better auto fuel economy standards (some think the new standards are a big deal) are the best we can hope for.

    You should also be prepared for the Keystone extension to go through. It is part of the “all of the above” and North American energy security strategy that Obama favors. But the real elephant in the room with Canadian tar sand is that the oil companies will not stop with Keystone. Even if it is approved the tar sand industry will want more export capacity and they will not stop with the Keystone project. People who believe this one extension to and existing pipeline is some kind of “lynchpin” are ignoring easily found evidence to the contrary. Those who focus on what TransCanada is doing while ignoring what Enbridge up to are self-deceiving fools. The oil companies have an enormous amount of money to invest in oil infrastructure and they will use it. The profits are too vast to turn away from…even with the recent drops in crude oil prices and the discounts that tar sand oil is selling for.

    • Superman1 says:

      If we have enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world ten times over, what does it matter if we reduce our stockpile by ten or twenty percent? If we have five times enough proven fossil reserves to destroy the climate, what does it matter if we block ten or twenty percent? Full disarmement in both cases is the only path to real security and safety.

  6. sault says:

    Everybody needs to chill the eff out (CTFO). In this day and age, you HAVE to agree with “all of the above” to even be CONSIDERED for national office. Everybody needs to think about potential political liabilities, how crazy the rightwing noise machine can be AND the mainstream media’s willingness to just regurgitate a great deal of their BS.

    If Mr. Moniz DIDN’T support “all of the above”, the fossil fuel interests or the nuclear interests would band together and get a smear campaign organized against him. And then Obama would have an embarassing, Van Jones-style debacle on his hands. If the recent Chuck Hagel nomination is any indication, the repubs will even eat their own, so a heretic that thinks we won’t use fossil fuels forever would cause the sharks to go into an even crazier feeding frenzy! I’m sorry, but as much as we would like it, Joe Romm will never be picked as Energy Secretary…

  7. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    when we belived in yes we can, Mulga said we had taken a dose of Hopeium. I sure hope Mulga is wrong, but it seems to be panning out just as Mulga said it would.

    World class people, who we expect so much of, who just get muzzled.

    • Superman1 says:

      The fundamental problem is our addiction to a high energy lifestyle enabled by unlimited availability of cheap fossil fuels. Politicians realize that to get elected, they have to cater to our interests. Therefore, until we collectively decide to break our addiction, or until it is involuntarily decided for us, the politicians will do nothing to oppose the unlimited availability of cheap fossil fuel.

  8. James Salsman says:

    What is Moniz’s opinion on algae and other microbial fuel syntheses versus the much more rapid abiotic e.g. Sabatier process?

  9. Mocasdad says:

    Are you sure that’s not Romney’s nominee?

  10. Daniel Coffey says:

    The various approaches advocated by this nominee are a weird combination of “slow walk” small scale and conservation which basically sustain the status quo, the astonishingly expensive and long-lived nuclear option with super-extended aftermath included, fracking natural gas as a bridge-fuel to nowhere, and finally, the vague tax on carbon which diffuses money into the great beyond, not on actually deploying the only real and practical answers: non-carbon assets on the ground in the form of large-scale solar PV, wind and geothermal. Note that a tax will mostly likely merely be passed through to consumers who are forced to pay for higher prices for the status quo, and if Grover Norquist has his way, discounted from the taxes now paid by the wealthy as a “revenue neutral” tax. It doesn’t get much better than this combination.

    It’s amazing how thinking about things with an economic hat on leads to a series of strategies which sustain the status quo and spell disaster despite an open acknowledgment of what is coming with global warming.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Daniel, have you seen that the Indian carbon tax is to be hypothecated to renewable roll-out and development? I know that in India there is many a slip twixt cup and lip, as my old guru used to say, but that’s the way to go, in my opinion at least. As you say, having it disappear into general revenue (probably to emerge as tax cuts or the rich) would be a disaster.

  11. James says:

    What is Mr Moniz’s opinion on Wind Energy?

  12. Adam Aston says:

    Hi Rebecca & Joe,

    Any sense of Moniz’ position on carbon capture & sequestration, CCS? Given his strong backing of nuclear & natural gas/fracking — under the argument that its vital to cut CO2e near term — it follows he’d support CCS, no?

    Adam