9 april 2013

[4C Note: Our earlier postings of February 24th and March 29th indicated major misgivings by the environmental movement on Obama's nomination of Prof. Moniz. As the New York Times revealed in the March article, Moniz has been a consultant both for British Petroleum and for a Saudi oil research institution. His appearance before the Senate committee is intended to reveal his environmental commitments to a skeptical world.]

2. DOE [Department of Energy]:

Senators pepper Moniz with questions on climate, gas exports

Hannah Northey, E&E reporter, E&E News, Tuesday, April 9, 2013

President Obama's nominee to lead the Department of Energy indicated today that he's leaning toward allowing exports of natural gas and vowed to pursue a low-carbon energy portfolio that includes "clean coal" and small modular reactors.

Physicist Ernest Moniz told a Senate panel at his confirmation hearing that he would fully study U.S. gas production before deciding whether to allow exports of liquefied natural gas. Each export application, he said, would be reviewed as would the cumulative effects of LNG exports.

"I believe the Natural Gas Act suggested that one should move forward with licensing unless there is a clear public interest issue," the Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor said. "Fundamentally, I think all of these issues have to come together to create a transparent [policy], application by application."

Moniz fielded a wide array of questions about LNG exports, climate change, renewable energy, the future of coal and the fate of the abandoned Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada.

Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) expressed concern that DOE had used "flawed" data in its LNG-export calculations and noted that Congress needs to find policies to spark a revolution in renewable energy as it has done to bolster gas development.

Moniz said, "We certainly want to make sure we're using data that's relevant to the decision at hand."

The committee frequently asked about climate change, and Moniz said he wants to lower carbon emissions and bolster renewables through research that makes the technology more economical.

Moniz also said in prepared remarks that the need to "mitigate climate change risks is emphatically supported by the science and by many military and religious leaders as well as the engaged scientific community."

Moniz said he agreed with Wyden that the United States needs to transition to a low-carbon economy and noted that the cost of solar power has dropped while wind has become more competitive. Moniz said that, if confirmed, he would support a push for small modular reactors, renewables, small hydro and geothermal, as well as technologies aimed at reducing the environmental impacts of coal-fueled power.

"We're in a historic trend toward low-carbon [energy], and I completely agree with you that we should pick up the pace," Moniz said.

In response to questions from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Moniz said the government should support carbon capture and sequestration projects for coal power plants and continue researching beneficial ways of using carbon.

Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller complained that the government attempted to force the Yucca Mountain project on his state. He asked Moniz whether he would look past the project to a consent-based approach to high-level nuclear waste.

Moniz said he would advance the recommendations laid out by Obama's Blue Ribbon Commission on nuclear waste, an expert panel on which Moniz served. The commission called on the government last year to retool the Nuclear Waste Policy Act to site one or more temporary nuclear waste storage locations and permanent repositories. Doing nothing, the panel warned, would strand about 65,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel at more than 70 reactors (Greenwire, Jan. 26).

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) asked Moniz to address rumors that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was trying to secure an advisory position at DOE for the controversial former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Gregory Jaczko. Moniz said he knew "absolutely nothing whatsoever" about Jaczko, who resigned last year amid accusations that he berated his colleagues.

Moniz also distanced himself from a controversial Ohio enrichment project for which he was a paid adviser, saying he hadn't had communication with the company in years (Greenwire, March 7).

The nominee was introduced by retired Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, whom panel members likened to "NBA all-stars."

Bingaman touted Moniz's managerial skills and his deep understanding of DOE and the country's energy challenges. Moniz's past studies on fossil fuels and renewables, he said, have helped Congress and the nation secure a good energy portfolio.

"I believe the president has chosen well," Bingaman said. "I hope there will be very strong bipartisan support for Dr. Moniz."

Scowcroft added, "I do not know anyone more suited to lead the Department of Energy at this difficult time."

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