Senate confirms physicist Moniz as energy chief (Update)

May 16, 2013 by Matthew Daly
In this April 9, 2013 file photo, Energy Secretary nominee Ernest Moniz, of Massachusetts testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Senate has unanimously confirmed President Barack Obama's nominee to lead the Energy Department. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

Physicist Ernest Moniz won unanimous Senate confirmation Thursday to be the new U.S. energy secretary.

Moniz, 68, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, replaces Steven Chu, who served as Energy secretary in President Barack Obama's first term. Moniz served as an energy undersecretary in the Clinton administration.

Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat and chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, called Moniz "solution-oriented" and said he is "smart about energy policy and savvy about Energy Department operations."

The 97-0 Senate vote on Moniz was delayed for more than three weeks after Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican objected to Obama's plan to cut about $200 million from a home-state project to turn weapons-grade plutonium into nuclear fuel. Graham and other Republicans said the president's budget proposal jeopardized a plant being built at South Carolina's Savannah River nuclear site.

Graham made clear Thursday he had nothing against Moniz, calling him a "fine fellow." Graham said he has other "leverage points" to continue putting pressure on the Obama administration to fully fund the Savannah River project.

As energy secretary, Moniz will face an array of challenges, as the administration continues to promote renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar power, even as it pushed to promote traditional fuel such as oil and natural gas.

In particular, Moniz will soon decide whether to approve a major expansion of U.S. natural gas exports that could create thousands of jobs, spur economic growth and help offset the nation's enormous trade deficit.

Increased exports also could lead to further increases in hydraulic fracturing, a drilling technique also known as fracking that has allowed companies to gain access to huge stores of natural gas but raised widespread concerns about alleged groundwater contamination and even earthquakes.

Federal law requires the Energy Department to determine that natural gas exports are in the public interest before granting permits to countries that do not have free-trade agreements with the United States.

Moniz, who heads an energy initiative at MIT, is widely seen as sympathetic to the natural gas industry. At a Senate hearing last month, he called the "stunning increase" in natural gas production a "revolution" that has led to reduced emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that cause global warming.

A recent study commissioned by the department concluded that exporting natural gas would benefit the U.S. economy even if it leads to higher domestic prices for the fuel.

Skip Horvath, president and chief executive of the Natural Gas Supply Association, an industry group, called Moniz "informed, engaged and forthcoming" in his approach to natural gas. "His vast experience in energy will be an asset to the administration," Horvath said.

Explore further: Indonesia passes law to tap volcano power

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Energy nominee favors all-of the-above approach

Mar 05, 2013

(AP)—President Barack Obama's choice to lead the Energy Department advocates an all-of-the-above approach to energy and favors natural gas as a "bridge fuel" to reduce emissions that contribute to global ...

Obama threatens veto of cybersecurity bill

Apr 17, 2013

President Barack Obama threatened on Tuesday to veto a major cybersecurity bill unless Congress amends it to include more protections for privacy and civil liberties.

Wind, solar becoming cost competitive: Chu

Mar 23, 2011

Clean sources of energy such as wind and solar will be no more expensive than oil and gas projects by the end of the decade, US Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Wednesday.

US energy future hazy on Japan, environment fears

Mar 31, 2011

The United States faces tough questions as it tries to plot its energy future in the wake of the Japan nuclear disaster and long-running environmental and security concerns, analysts say.

Recommended for you

Indonesia passes law to tap volcano power

Aug 26, 2014

The Indonesian parliament on Tuesday passed a long-awaited law to bolster the geothermal energy industry and tap the power of the vast archipelago's scores of volcanoes.

Expert calls for nuke plant closure (Update)

Aug 25, 2014

A senior federal nuclear expert is urging regulators to shut down California's last operating nuclear plant until they can determine whether the facility's twin reactors can withstand powerful shaking from ...

Image: Testing electric propulsion

Aug 20, 2014

On Aug. 19, National Aviation Day, a lot of people are reflecting on how far aviation has come in the last century. Could this be the future – a plane with many electric motors that can hover like a helicopter ...

Where's the real value in Tesla's patent pledge?

Aug 20, 2014

With the much-anticipated arrival next month of electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla's Model S to Australian shores, it's a good time to revisit Tesla's pledge to freely share patents. ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ValeriaT
1 / 5 (1) May 22, 2013
Moniz is suspicious from blocking of cold fusion research at MIT, he should be investigated and jailed instead.