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.

02.24.13 10:45 AM ET

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

Ernest Moniz, the Director of the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Energy Initiative, Laboratory for Energy and the Environment, at his office at the university.

James Leynse/Corbis

Ernest Moniz in his office at MIT.

“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.”

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.

FORT WORTH, TX - DECEMBER 18: 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. Drilled in a commercial area adjacent to the Interstate-35W expressway, the 11,600 foot well is owned by Chesapeake Energy Corporation. It's the first of 10-13 wells expected to be drilled on the leased site. Urban wells are required to be 600 feet from the nearest homes, schools, churches, hospitals and parks. Multiple wells on a site require less distance. In Texas, state law gives owners of mineral rights the prerogative over owners of surface land. One of the largest natural gas fields in the US, the Barnett Shale formation, discovered in the early 1950's, covers 5,000 square miles underlying the Dallas-Fort Worth area and is proven to hold 2.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The Barnett Shale is known as a tight gas reservoir in hard shale rock and requires hydraulic fracturing technology to properly release the underground gas. Drilling in urban areas of Fort Worth has been a contentious issue between city councils, local residents, large land holders and influential energy companies. Residents have been objecting to heavy truck traffic of 18-wheel service vehicles, road destruction, noise, dust and waste water removal. Fort Worth has been called the guinea pig for natural gas drilling in close proximity to residential areas. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

Robert Nickelsberg/Getty

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.

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.