Will Obama Appoint Fracking Proponent Ernest Moniz to Energy Secretary?

Environmental advocates say his appointment to the DOE could set renewable energy development back years.

Photo Credit: James William Gibson



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President Obama got pats on the back from environmentalists for his pick of John Kerry for Secretary of State and the news of Sally Jewell's nomination for Interior Secretary was also warmly received. But if the rumors are true that the president will tap Ernest Moniz to lead the Department of Energy, then he's likely to see some opposition.

Ernest Moniz is a nuclear physicist and one of the president's energy advisers. Reuters reports that he was undersecretary at the DOE during the Clinton administration and he's the " director of MIT's Energy Initiative, a research group that gets funding from industry heavyweights including BP, Chevron, and Saudi Aramco for academic work on projects aimed at reducing climate-changing greenhouse gases."

It's Moniz's evangelizing for natural gas that may get him into trouble with some environmental groups. Reuters reports:

Moniz would bring scientific acumen to the job, but he also has worked closely with industry and promoted natural gas as a "bridge fuel" to lower carbon pollution while new innovative forms of energy are being developed.

In July 2011, Moniz told the Senate Energy committee that he believes the water and air pollution risks associated with hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" were "challenging but manageable" with appropriate regulation and oversight.

Some who live close to fracking operations have seen natural gas a bridge to nowhere but misery after enduring air pollution, water pollution, health problems, and a host of other issues from the onslaught of trucks and drilling equipment.

Wenonah Hauter, director of Food and Water Watch, issued a statementin response to news that Obama may be leaning toward Moniz:

Rumors are circulating that President Obama is considering Ernest Moniz as Secretary of the Department of Energy. Mr. Moniz is a known cheerleader for exploiting our reserves of natural gas using a highly controversial and polluting practice known as hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"). His appointment to the DOE could set renewable energy development back years. If we pursue our fossil fuel addiction by expanding fracking, which Mr. Moniz will likely advocate, the oil and gas industry will thrive while true energy efficiency and renewable solutions languish. Our water, public health and climate would suffer.

Mr. Moniz is affiliated with the industry-backed MIT Energy Initiative, so we shouldn't be surprised about his favorable position on fracking. 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."

It seems that Obama has been working on building his credibility in supporting environmental issues since starting his second term, but an appointment of Moniz could set that back. 

Tara Lohan is a freelance writer and former senior editor at AlterNet. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis, including Water Matters: Why We Need to Act Now to Save Our Most Critical Resource. Follow her on Twitter @TaraLohan.