MIT’s Ernest Moniz will become the next secretary of energy, but EPA administrator nominee Gina McCarthy still faces stiff Senate opposition.
The Senate confirmed Ernest Moniz, former director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Energy Initiative, as the next secretary of energy in a unanimous 97-0 vote Thursday.
The vote was a rare moment of bipartisanship for an exceptionally divided Congress. Moniz, who will replace current Secretary Steven Chu, has appealed to both sides of the aisle since he passed through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee by a 21 to 1 vote in April.
Republicans and oil and gas industry representatives support Moniz’s more aggressive views toward naturalgas development on U.S. soil. He directed a widely cited MIT study in 2010 that emphasized natural gas’ critical role in the U.S. energy supply picture for the foreseeable future as a bridge to lower-carbon fuel sources.
“Secretary Moniz understands the energy revolution underway in the United States,” Jack Gerard, CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, wrote in a release.
Moniz also said that he believes in developing as many energy sources as possible, with a special focus on minimizing environmental harm related to fossil fuels, and cultivating renewables.
Whenever he was challenged on a politically divisive topic during his nomination process—in particular federal regulation of domestic hydraulic fracturing and international exports—Moniz deferred to Energy’s role as an innovation catalyst.
Despite its name, the department has relatively little regulatory authority over the United States’ energy landscape. It primarily funds and directs technology research and development.
Some environmental advocacy groups voiced concerns about Moniz’s financial ties to the hydraulic fracturing industry. He has long-standing financial ties with industry consulting and research groups, but said during his confirmation hearing that he will adhere to all federal ethics and disclosure policies.
Uphill Confirmation Battle for EPA Administrator Nominee
Also on Thursday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee confirmed Gina McCarthy, nominated by President Barack Obama to replace current Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson.
McCarthy, EPA’s current assistant administrator for air and radiation, passed by a 10-8 vote along party lines after a contentious hearing. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California), the committee chair, and ranking minority member Senator David Vitter (R-Louisiana) frequently cut each other off during the hearing, an obvious sign of the partisan divide that may eventually block McCarthy’s nomination completely.
Many of President Obama’s climate change-related agenda items will move through EPA, so the stakes are high for selecting the administrator. The agency also plays a direct role in enforcing the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and other resource management, conservation, and pollution-focused legislation.
Sen. Vitter and his colleagues mounted an aggressive campaign recently against what they say is a deep lack of transparency in EPA. The agency, Sen. Vitter has said and written, is hiding alliances with “far-left” environmental groups and woefully mismanaging information.
But McCarthy also championed a series of air-pollution regulations in her EPA tenure so far, The Washington Post reported, including soot and mercury-emissions limits for power plants.
Some Republicans are afraid she will impose more regulations on carbon dioxide emissions, natural gas related pollution, and other postponed pollution rules that they see as job and growth killing.
Sen. Vitter and his colleagues submitted over 1,000 questions to McCarthy during her nomination process. While Sen. Vitter said he saw enough progress in the answers to move forward with the committee vote, he still held out the threat of a filibuster on the Senate floor.
“I would just urge my colleagues, put aside the filibuster. If you don’t like the EPA — you obviously don’t … that’s your right to vote no. But please let’s treat her well,” Sen. Boxer said during the hearing.
Follow the Water Main for more as McCarthy’s nomination moves toward a full Senate vote.
is a Washington, D.C–based correspondent for Circle of Blue. He graduated from DePauw University as a Media Fellow with a B.A. in Conflict Studies. He co-writes The Stream, a daily summary of global water news.