President Barack Obama nominated Ernest (Ernie) Moniz, MIT nuclear physicist, as his new Energy Secretary replacing Steven Chu who stepped down after a four-year tenure. There is no denying Moniz has an impressive pedigree, including serving as Undersecretary of U.S. Department of Energy under President Clinton, but is Moniz good enough? Only time will tell but despite Moniz’s enthusiasm for clean energy sources, there are some doubts (including scathing remarks from DC Bureau) which question which side he really may be on since during his time as Director of the MIT Energy Initiative, there was funding from major oil companies which may or may not have influenced research outcomes, including those on fracking.
One thing is clear. Moniz is an academic’s academic, yet he may have a tough time convincing environmentalists about the benefits of fracking. Same holds true if the President then endorses the Keystone XL Pipeline since Moniz’s own enthusiasm for alternative energy sources may be drowned out by the expected large number of jeers and clamoring from environmentalists who felt this was the President’s time to move the country’s energy supply into the future rather than rely further on fossil fuels, especially post such vocal campaigns to fight climate change (including his recent State of the Union address).
Is an academic the right person to handle such criticisms (fracking and Keystone XL) with climate change such a strong mainstream topic following Superstorm Sandy and winter storms that have paralyzed parts of the country and a dandy of a storm expected later this very week in the Carolinas? Maybe we should ask Ben Bernanke, the Fed Chief, who constantly gets berated by government officials whatever he does, including saving the economy from a complete depression post Lehman and Bear Stearns. Unlike his predecessor Chu, Moniz’s has an even tougher job since he likely won’t have the benefits to move some next generation energy sources forward due to budget constraints only amplified by the failings of Congress.
Moniz calls natural gas the “bridge fuel”. Just remember, what good is a bridge fuel if there is nothing on the other side of the bridge? The time to move forward is now so let’s hope Moniz’s nomination was a smart choice he himself shows by his actions he is a far cry from a political puppet. I wish him luck.