Financial markets "endorse" Obama DOE and EPA nominees

The new nominees announced by U.S. President Barack Obama this week – Ernest Moniz for the DOE and Gina McCarthy for the EPA – will appear before Congress for confirmation hearings at a time when legislators are at odds over a long list of topics, including the proposed Keystone XL pipeline; Arctic drilling; regulation of carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants; tighter national standards on ground-level ozone pollution; and a Sequester that will cut a big chunk out of each agency’s budget before the new leaders walk in the door.

After thanking Chu and Jackson for their service, the President welcomed the two nominees, stating, "They’re going to be making sure that we’re investing in American energy, that we’re doing everything that we can to combat the threat of climate change, that we’re going to be creating jobs and economic opportunity in the first place. They are going to be a great team."

However, while each had an impressive résumé, Moniz and McCarthy (M&M) were not familiar faces – even inside the Beltway.

This did not stop the financial markets endorsing the nominations the morning after, as the Dow Jones industrial average, which measures the performance of 30 blue-chip companies, passed its all-time high on Tuesday, March 5, despite fears that automatic spending cuts contained in the sequester could hamper economic growth. The Dow last traded at these levels on Oct. 9, 2007, when it closed at 14,164.53.

The Clinton imprimatur

The President was quick to establish Moniz’s solid lineage. "Now, the good news is that Ernie already knows his way around the Department of Energy. He is a physicist by training, but he also served as Under Secretary of Energy under President [Bill] Clinton," said Obama. "Since then, he’s directed MIT’s Energy Initiative, which brings together prominent thinkers and energy companies to develop the technologies that can lead us to more energy independence and also to new jobs."

More specifically, according to website of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Moniz is the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics and Engineering Systems at the university, as well as the founding director of the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) and the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment. At MIT, Moniz also served as head of the Department of Physics and as director of the Bates Linear Accelerator Center. His principal research contributions have been in theoretical nuclear physics and in energy technology and policy studies. He has been on the MIT faculty since 1973.

Moniz also served as Undersecretary of Energy from 1997 to 2001, where he had oversight responsibility for all of DOE’s science and energy programs and the DOE national laboratory system. He also led a comprehensive review of the nuclear weapons stockpile stewardship program, advanced the science and technology of environmental cleanup; and served as DOE’s special negotiator for Russia initiatives, with a particular focus on the disposal of Russian nuclear materials.

From 1995 to 1997, he served as the associate director for science in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. There, his responsibilities spanned the physical, life, and social and behavioral sciences; science education; and university-government partnerships.

He currently sits on the President’s Council of Advisors for Science and Technology and on the Department of Defense Threat Reduction Advisory Committee.

Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman, Senator Ron Wyden (Democrat-Oregon), commented, "I look forward to discussing with Ernest Moniz the many issues before the Energy Department that are so vital to the nation’s energy security. That includes: reengaging Dr. Moniz over the problems with cleaning up nuclear waste at the Hanford Site; finding creative ways to promote new technologies and harness the ingenuity of America’s energy innovators; and examining the diverse opportunities to attack climate change and transition to a low-carbon economy."

However, Senator Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), the ranking Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, was a bit more reserved. "I will withhold judgment until I’ve had a chance to speak to the nominees directly, but my main concern is that both agencies take immediate steps to restore balance to our nation’s energy and environmental policies," Murkowski said.

A "straight shooter"

The new EPA nominee has served 25 years in federal and state government under five different governors, including a stint as Mitt Romney’s Under Secretary for Policy at the Executive Office for Environmental Affairs when he led the State of Massachusetts from 2003 through 2007. Dubbed Romney’s "Green Quarterback", Gina McCarthy was charged with preserving the state’s open spaces, farmlands, and forests. He also tasked her with developing Massachusetts’ first climate protection action plan.

From 2004 to 2009, she led Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection under Republican Governor Jodi Rell. During her tenure, Connecticut became one of the first 10 states to participate in a regional cap-and-trade plan.

"But Gina has got plenty more to be proud of," praised President Obama. "As Assistant EPA Administrator [during the first Obama Administration], Gina has focused on practical, cost-effective ways to keep our air clean and our economy growing. She’s earned a reputation as a straight shooter. She welcomes different points of views. I’m confident that she’s going to do an outstanding job leading the EPA."

However, a Washington insider told pv magazine, it’s McCarthy’s accomplishments at the EPA that will prevent her from being a shoo-in.

Still she has her cheerleaders, including Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley (Democrat), an Environment and Public Works Committee member. In an emailed comment to pv magazine, he commented, "Since joining EPA, she has played a key role in implementing new limits on soot and mercury emissions from power plants and has done so in a way that focuses on the heart of the challenges, while recognizing real world impacts.

"The EPA will face many contentious issues these next four years, most importantly reining in the greenhouse gas pollution causing global climate change. We need a strong leader like Gina McCarthy to manage EPA at this critical juncture. She should be confirmed without delay."

Enthusiastic environmentalists and industry leaders

Key U.S. environmental groups and energy industry leaders weighed in quickly with positive feedback on the nominations. Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association congratulated both candidates on their nominations.

"As the assistant administrator for the EPA Office of Air and Radiation and throughout her work in Massachusetts and Connecticut, Gina McCarthy has shown that she understands the importance of renewable energy to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and keep our air clean for future generations," he stated, adding, "During Lisa Jackson’s tenure, the EPA has proven that these two ideals are not mutually exclusive, and the solar industry will continue to support the EPA in developing our clean energy future."

Meanwhile, he said, that Moniz’s previous leadership experience at both DOE and M.I.T. will be "instrumental in promoting the innovation across the solar value chain to develop a strong clean energy economy."

The New York City-base National Resources Defense Council’s President, Frances Beinecke, said of Muniz, "Professor Moniz has the hands-on experience and the expertise needed to help further the climate and energy goals our country urgently needs."

Edited by Becky Beetz.