US President Barack Obama’s science team gained a new member on 16 May as the Senate confirmed physicist Ernest Moniz as head of the Department of Energy. Lawmakers also voted to advance the nomination of Gina McCarthy, Obama’s choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The unanimous vote to approve Moniz, director of the Energy Initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, came after Senator Lindsay Graham (Republican, South Carolina) withdrew his objection to the nomination. Graham had blocked the full Senate from voting on Moniz for nearly a month, citing a White House proposal to cut US$200 million in funding for a plutonium-processing plant in South Carolina.
Moniz, who now takes the helm of a sprawling agency with an annual budget of roughly $27 billion, is no stranger to Washington DC. He served as an associate director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy under president Bill Clinton, and for the past four years he has served on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
Known for his strong support of natural gas and nuclear power, Moniz replaces fellow physicist Steven Chu, who left the energy department in April for a post at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.
Meanwhile, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works approved McCarthy’s nomination by a 10–8 vote, clearing the way for a confirmation vote by the full Senate.
Unlike Moniz, who has received broad support from both major political parties, McCarthy — who currently heads the EPA’s air-quality office — has faced strong opposition from Republicans. They boycotted a scheduled committee vote on her nomination last week, effectively blocking the process. The highest ranking Republican on the Committee on Environment and Public Works, David Vitter (Louisiana), said that he and his colleagues attended Thursday’s vote because the EPA had agreed to address Republican concerns about the agency’s policies on information access and transparency.
But McCarthy’s path to consideration by the full Senate is not yet clear: another Republican senator, Roy Blunt (Missouri), is blocking a final vote on McCarthy’s nomination until the Obama administration provides more details about a plan to install new pumping stations along the Mississippi River in southern Missouri.