American Elephants

A New Chief for Energy.The Greens Are Up-In-Arms. by The Elephant's Child


President Obama has nominated MIT Professor Ernest Moniz to run the Department of Energy. Dr. Moniz is a nuclear physicist, with a doctorate in theoretical physics from Stanford University, and a member of the Clinton administration.  He was a member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology that recommended dumping $16 billion a year into renewables — three times the previous amount.

He has warned about climate change, and has been concerned that there hasn’t been enough action to combat it. The MIT Energy Initiative, which he directs, has studied natural gas and fracking, but it has led him to parrot the usual environmental lines about water contamination and methane leaks. He is described as “a politically savvy guy, and as a result of his time in Washington he understands Washington reasonably well.”

At the MIT Energy Initiative, Moniz focused on transforming the energy mix, with particular reference to renewable energy technology, which many Republicans in Congress regard with suspicion, if not contempt. But Moniz has also insisted that non-renewables must remain part of the energy portfolio for several years until they become “too carbon-intensive”. Natural gas “is part of our solution, at least for some time,” he told a meeting at the University of Texas, Austin in December.

And in testimony about a recent MIT Energy Initiative report into the controversial process of fracking, which involves pumping sand and liquid into deep shale deposits to liberate natural gas, he spoke out against banning the method, calling instead for better regulation and oversight.

In testimony before the Senate a couple of years ago, he suggested that regulation would be best if “applied uniformly to all shales” which suggest he is in favor as most greens are of the feds taking over regulation of fracking from the states. Greens are up in arms over his nomination, his cardinal sin seems to be favoring natural gas as a “bridge fuel” until such time as the green vision of an all-renewable world comes to pass. This used to be the view of nearly every environmental group not long ago. His other sin is the belief that nuclear should remain part of the energy mix, common sense for most policymakers, but another line in the sand for growing numbers of greens.

Think Progress describes Moniz as “bullish” on solar energy, and he has advised a number of solar finance and technology companies. He believes that nuclear poser can be a partial solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the long term. He sees natural gas as a true bridge to a low-carbon future, but has warned that is could slow the growth in clean energy. A 2011 MIT gas study calls for a reduction in “greenhouse pollution” greater than 50%. He has said regarding energy efficiency “The most important thing is lowering your use of energy in ways that actually save you money,” he said, “It sounds trivial, but putting out lights really does matter.”

He would, in some ways, his favor of natural gas and nuclear energy, to be an improvement on Secretary Stephen Chu, but he is more savvy in the ways of Washington politics, and thus a more formidable opponent.

The general interest in this appointment is less concerned with the beliefs of this nominee, than in his hair style, which does seem a little 18th century. I wish people were more interested in his convictions and his policies.

It is quite possible for a physicist to be unfamiliar with the science that concerns those who believe that climate is always changing, that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not the cause of warming. Some have written about the evidence that completely changed their minds. It is especially possible for a theoretical physicist to believe that breakthroughs in harnessing the power inherent in the wind and in the rays of the sun are only the right equation away.

There’s a big gap between the true watermelons — the radicals who, upon the collapse of communism, moved to environmentalism as the best venue for their grasp for power — those who assume that oil is, by its nature, bad; and those who believe that the immense panic over one degree of warming and computer program predictions of disaster in another hundred years, might be more a fault of the idea that computers can predict the future, than of Mother Nature who seems to keep on  keeping on pretty well. The whole thing is a bundle of science, emotion, religion, radicalism, and junk science, slowly sorting itself out with billions and billions of taxpayer dollars.


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