US President Barack Obama moved to fill a pair of key posts in his energy and environmental team on Monday. Confirming weeks of speculation, the president nominated Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) physicist Ernest Moniz as secretary of energy while promoting Gina McCarthy to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
During a brief announcement at the White House, Obama cited Moniz’s experience at the department under former president Bill Clinton, as well as his expertise on energy and climate issues. “Most importantly,” the president said, “Ernie knows that we can produce more energy and grow our economy while still taking care of our air, our water and our climate.”
As discussed in our pages last week (‘Physicist tipped for US energy post‘), Moniz will replace Nobel Laureate Steven Chu, who oversaw a massive one-time boost in spending on clean energy while advancing new interdisciplinary research and development initiatives within the department. Moniz has promoted the same kind of holistic thinking on energy issues at MIT and has extensive experience on nuclear weapons and nonproliferation issues.
“President Obama could not have made a better choice from the point of view of energy policy, advancing a wide range of energy technology, and stewardship of nuclear weapons, ” John Deutch, a chemist and colleague at MIT who also served in the Clinton administration, wrote in an e-mail to Nature.
Operating directly under Lisa Jackson, McCarthy has spearheaded the efforts on air quality and greenhouse gases as assistant EPA administrator for air and radiation. That experience will come in particularly handy if Obama follows through on his promise to advance climate regulations in the face of congressional gridlock on the issue (‘Obama rekindles climate hopes‘). Before going to work for the EPA, McCarthy served as commissioner of the Connecticut department of environmental protection, where she worked on the northeastern states’ regional greenhouse-gas trading initiative. She also served as a long-time environmental regulator in Massachusetts, including under former Republican governor and presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Both candidates have fairly broad support. Although Moniz has faced opposition among some environmental groups for his endorsement of natural gas as a short-term vehicle for reducing US emissions, he is not expected to encounter any major hurdles during the senate confirmation process. Obama said McCarthy has “earned a reputation as a straight shooter”, and environmentalists roundly lauded her appointment. But her confirmation hearings are nonetheless likely to be explosive as Republicans target the White House’s regulatory agenda.
During her initial confirmation hearings in 2009, McCarthy encountered opposition from Wyoming Republican John Barrasso, who accused the EPA of “gambling with the American people’s future” by setting in motion the machinery to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. Barrasso eventually relented, but he will have more ammunition this time around.