When the news broke last week that Barack Obama had tapped MIT physicist Ernest Moniz to be the next Secretary of Energy, I immediately began seeing some buzz that he might be a distinct improvement over the last occupant of the office. There was even talk that he was actually a proponent of domestic energy sources, and not just wind, solar or algae. I was skeptical to say the least, given our previous experience with the President’s choices. But the Washington Post certainly tried to paint a rosy picture right out of the gate.
Moniz, who served as associate director of the White House office of science and technology policy and as undersecretary of energy under President Bill Clinton, is also devoted to the “all-of-the-above” strategy for energy that Obama has embraced. In a voluminous written and spoken record, Moniz has come out in favor of nuclear power, research into carbon capture and storage for coal, renewable energy and shale gas produced by hydraulic fracturing.
That all sounds pretty good until you get to the next caveat.
Like outgoing Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Moniz is alarmed about climate change and devoted to funding scientific research into low-carbon alternatives to fossil fuel.
Still, I thought I’d give it some time and let some of the experts begin doing research into his background. And not all of the news is bad. Here are a few examples.
“Mr. Moniz has been supportive of nuclear power, clean coal as well as renewable energy. He is perhaps best known for a study published by MIT on the future of natural gas, which was presented to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in 2011.”
“It’s cheap, there’s lots of it and there’s lots of it in places with high demand, namely the U.S., China and India,” says co-author and M.I.T. physicist Ernest Moniz. “Sequestration,” he adds, “is a key enabling technology for coal use in a carbon-constrained world.”
“The world needs both more electricity and less pollution. The goals are not incompatible, but the solution will require better management of demand, smarter use of coal as well as renewable energy sources, and increased use of nuclear power.”
That all sounds good – or as good as we’re likely to get from a nominee put forth by a Democrat – but what will happen when these beliefs run headlong into the agenda of the EPA? In particular, what input will Mr. Moniz have when it comes to the issue of New Source Performance Standards (NSPS)? These new standards, if implemented, would set a limit for carbon dioxide output based on what the best natural gas combined cycle gas turbines can achieve, even if the power plant runs on coal. Since coal produces more CO2 by definition, the effect will be to essentially eliminate any new coal plant construction or refurbishment, regardless of how well they do with the clean coal technology Moniz is championing.
Will he knuckle under to the President’s regulatory gurus, or speak up for a real “all of the above” strategy which Barack Obama claims to support? That’s going to be the real test to watch for in the coming months.