Politics

02.24.13

Environmental Groups Target Ernest Moniz, President Obama’s Likely Choice for Energy Secretary

Environmental groups are mobilizing against Ernest Moniz, President Obama’s likely pick for Energy secretary. Miranda Green on why.

President Obama is widely expected to nominate Ernest Moniz as Energy secretary any day now, and environmental organizations are girding for a fight.

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Ernest Moniz in his office at MIT. (James Leynse/Corbis )

“We’re not sure Mr. Moniz will keep his eyes where they should be: on a no-carbon future where we are relying on wind and other forms of energy,” says Mitch Jones, a program director at Food and Water Watch.

The anti-fracking organization began an effort to block Moniz’s nomination after reports surfaced that the long-haired MIT professor is the president’s likely pick. The organization lambasted Moniz for his preference for fossil fuels as an energy source and for being a fracking “cheerleader.” The group generated more than 34,000 emails that it sent to President Obama asking him to take Moniz off the Energy secretary short list.

“Mr. Moniz is affiliated with the industry-backed MIT Energy Initiative, so we shouldn’t be surprised about his favorable position on fracking,” read the statement. “But President Obama could do a lot better. Appointing Mr. Moniz would be a nail in the coffin for one of his most lauded inaugural speech promises: a commitment to focus on climate solutions.”

“Appointing Mr. Moniz would be a nail in the coffin for one of his most lauded inaugural speech promises: a commitment to focus on climate solutions.”

Moniz is a nuclear physicist at MIT and serves as the director of the school’s Energy Initiative. He also has a history in Washington, having served as Energy undersecretary during Bill Clinton’s second term. He has publically advocated natural gas as a transition fuel to a low-carbon future and argued that is the most cost-effective source over renewable energy.

Jones says Food and Water Watch views Obama’s potential nomination of Moniz as a direct contradiction to the president’s inauguration promises because of Moniz’s preference for shale gas wells.

“We remain concerned that part of [Obama’s] all-of-the-above approach to the environment is continuing to use hydraulic fracturing. We’re concerned that Mr. Moniz will continue to push ahead with developing fract shale gas and the problems associated with that … We have lost sight of renewable energy,” he says.

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Floor hands and engineers set a down-hole motor and drill bit used for directional drilling on a natural gas drilling platform on December 18, 2008, in the Barnett Shale in Fort Worth, Texas. (Robert Nickelsberg/Getty)

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a technique used for oil extraction that involves drilling into rock and utilizing pressure to release trapped petroleum. Despite the prevalence of trapped shale gas in the United States, environmental organizations challenge the technique because of its impact on land, animal life, and ground water.

Sierra Club legislative director Melinda Pierce is also wary of the “all-of-the-above” approach on energy that the Obama administration seems to have taken, arguing that the president cannot be pro-oil and pro-fracking while also committed to easing global warming.

"Were Mr. Moniz to be appointed secretary of Energy, we would stress to him that an ‘all of the above’ energy policy only means more of the same, and we would urge him to leave dangerous nuclear energy and toxic fracking behind while focusing on safe, clean energy sources like wind and solar," Pierce says.

At Greenpeace, executive director Phil Radford believes Moniz will keep the administration’s energy approach in the dark ages.

“This is a fairly safe, uninspired pick,” says Radford. Moniz “knows fossil fuels and nuclear energy, which is old energy. And at the same time it doesn’t align with the president’s promise to move the country forward. It’s a strange choice to pair with the president’s choice to fight global warming.”

Of course, the opposition of environmental groups doesn’t mean the Senate will reject Moniz if Obama taps him for the post. But it could mean the president will have a fight on his hands.