Earlier today, President Obama nominated Ernest J. Moniz to the head of the Energy Department and selected Gina McCarthy to lead the EPA. The two appointments await the approval of the Senate.
With the issues of our nation’s newly discovered energy abundance and environmental health pitted directly against each other, these two newly appointed government officials have the tough task of figuring out how to handle the shale boom that has divided our country. By examining the background of each appointee, we may be able to decipher how they might figure in the development of American energy.
Physicist Ernest J. Moniz, 67, is the director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Energy Initiative, a research group that focuses on reducing carbon emissions. Along with long hours logged in the lab, Moniz has also spent time in Washington D.C. where he served as undersecretary at the Energy Department for the Clinton Administration. Moniz is also currently one of President Obama’s science and energy advisors.
“He brings expertise, experience in a prior administration and real science credibility,” said Ian Bowles, former Massachusetts secretary of energy and environmental affairs and now a managing director of venture firm WindSail Capital, told the Washington Post. “You can argue about whether you want to have a scientist, but within that food group he’s an excellent choice,” said Mr. Bowles.
If ratified by the Senate, Moniz will replace Stephen Chu, a distinguished scientist and co-winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize for Physics. Moniz has served as a member of Chu’s Blue Ribbon Commission that has dealt with the issue of nuclear reactor waste stemming from President Obama’s decision to end work on the Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada.
Much like Chu, Moniz will be tasked with accomplishing the president’s goals of clean energy, dependence on foreign oil, the global climate crisis, and the creation of jobs. While many of President Obama’s goals are related, issues like shale gas have led to a dispute about Moniz’s views on our nation’s latest oil boom.
According to the Washington Post, MIT’s Energy Initiative has received as much as $25 million from oil and gas companies such as BP, Shell, ENI, and Saudi Aramco, along with shale gas company Chesapeake Energy, drawing the attention of environmentalists and prominent renewable energy experts. Mr. Moniz has said he supports hydraulic fracturing for natural gas as a potential bridge fuel.
“Ironically, the Energy Department has no jurisdiction over fracking policy. The Environmental Protection Agency is weighing whether to impose new regulations under the Clean Water and Clean Air acts. The Interior Department owns many of the lands that oil companies want to exploit and is devising standards for fracking in those areas. State governments currently handle most regulation,” writes the Washington Post, highlighting the lack of control Moniz will have over the shale debate.
At the EPA
Appointee Gina McCarthy’s role as head of the EPA will put her at the forefront of the battle. Prior to her appointment by President Obama, 58-year old McCarthy held the position of Assistant Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. Before her time at the EPA, McCarthy served as the Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection.
During her time at the EPA, McCarthy has earned the nickname “Obama’s green quarterback” for her hardnosed stance on protecting the environment, the kind of attitude President Obama will need if he hopes to accomplish his ambitious environmental agenda during his second term.
Republicans in Congress and coal-state Democrats are likely to protest her appointment; although, according to Politico, Republicans won’t resort to extraordinary means to stop her from accepting the job. McCarthy has worked for both Democrats and Republicans alike, serving under Governor Mitt Romney in Massachusetts, but has often quarreled with Republicans over environmental matters.
McCarthy’s nomination has been widely speculated since February, with some organizations such as the Environmental Working Group issuing a congratulatory statement as early as February 20. “We congratulate Ms. McCarthy on her nomination, and if confirmed, it's our hope she will follow the path Administrator Jackson has set,” they said.
Many believe McCarthy will pick up where current EPA head Lisa P. Jackson left off, giving environmentalists hope that the White House is on their side.
The National Audobon Society issued its own approval of McCarthy’s appointment earlier this morning.
"She is exactly the kind of leader the country needs to make historic progress on climate change solutions,” said Audubon Vice President for Government Relations Mike Daulton in a statement. “She has a rare and genuine ability to bring together diverse viewpoints to reach real solutions, something Washington desperately needs,” he continued.
With the nation seemingly divided over the pros and cons of excavating the billions of tons of shale gas that lie below our country, both Moniz and McCarthy will face criticisms from both sides of the argument.