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Who Is Ernest Moniz, Obama's Choice for Energy Secretary? Who Is Ernest Moniz, Obama's Choice for Energy Secretary?

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Energy

Who Is Ernest Moniz, Obama's Choice for Energy Secretary?

Ernest Moniz, seen in this 2000 photo, is reportedly Obama's pick to head the Energy Department. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

photo of Niraj Chokshi
March 4, 2013

President Obama on Monday nominated MIT professor Ernest Moniz to become the next Energy secretary, succeeding Steven Chu. Here's what you need to know about him.

  • No Stranger to Government. Moniz has held key energy-policy roles under Presidents Clinton and Obama. As undersecretary for Energy from 1997 to 2001, he was the department’s public face in explaining in 1998 how Energy failed to prevent one nuclear-weapons plant from leaking nearly a million gallons of radioactive waste over time. A year later, he had to defend a nearly half-billion-dollar, 16-year mistake in how the department handled such waste. Earlier in Clinton’s tenure, Moniz spent two years as the associate director for science in the president’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. In 2009, he was appointed to be a member of Obama’s Science and Technology Advisory Council. Moniz also has experience testifying before Congress, having discussed the Clinton administration’s energy policy in June 2000 and the future of natural gas in 2011.
  • Proponent of Nuclear Energy. Moniz is an advocate for a low-carbon future and has, in a variety of forums, promoted the use of nuclear energy to get there. Despite the disaster at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant in early 2011, Moniz argued later that year that "it would be a mistake" to let it put an end to nuclear power. Safety and cost are considerable hurdles to building large plants, he wrote, but there are cheaper, safer, more-versatile options, he argued. If the country doesn't invest in nuclear technology now, he wrote, Americans will look back with regret. "Washington should stick to its plan of offering limited assistance for building several new nuclear reactors in this decade," he wrote. "It should step up its support for new technology," too.
  • A Fan of Natural Gas—for Now. To the chagrin of some environmentalists, Moniz has described the growth in domestic shale-gas production over the past few years as paradigm-shifting. Introducing a major MIT report on the future of natural gas in 2010, he called it “a bridge to a low-carbon future.” In the long term, natural gas would likely be phased out in favor of zero-carbon options, he said. “For the next several decades, however, natural gas will play a crucial role in enabling very substantial reductions in carbon emissions,” Moniz added.

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