President Obama may have a thing for northeast academics but he at least stepped out of Harvard and Yale this time, tapping MIT Professor Ernie Moniz Monday to run the Department of Energy. Moniz, a theoretical physicist and simulation expert, was in politics during the Clinton years, as Associate Director for Science in the Office of Science and Technology Policy from 1995 to 1997 and Under Secretary of the Department of Energy from 1997 until January 2001.
Unlike his predecessor, Dr. Steven Chu, Moniz is well-seasoned in the ways of Washington, D.C. and he was rumored to be the front runner for the last month. His nomination is a disappointment for people who had hoped a dark horse candidate (actual experience in energy) would be chosen during a time of budget cuts but Greentech Media notes that science pundit (and former student of Moniz) Joe Romm believes that practical people are overrated in government jobs anyway. That keen understanding of reality is why Joe Romm writes for Think Progress.
Moniz is the safest of safe picks but environnmentalists are making a perfunctory objection, because he doesn't hate natural gas. Yet Moniz came of age when environmentalists still loved natural gas (which is to say, before it became popular and actually reduced energy CO2 emissions back to early 1990s levels, like we all wanted and exists now) - even Joe Romm hasn't found a way to hate natural gas yet. If activists knew anything more than how to create fear and doubt about science, they would know that the Department of Energy has no say on fracking anyway. For that, they will need to have their well-paid lobbyists bugging Gina McCarthy, former commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, who has been nominated to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. She'll be a lot more receptive to them, since no science is required at the EPA; she loves regulations and hates business. She should do well.
The big problem activists have with Moniz, as tepid as it is, is not his support of natural gas, it is really that the MIT Energy Initiative didn't vilify energy corporations, it worked with them - and that is not to be allowed in Anti-Science Land.
Will this mean smarter science policy rather than just hanging out at the Office of Renewable Energy and throwing checks at solar power corporations, like we had the last four years? Here's hoping.
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