President Obama’s pick to head the Energy Department offered something for everyone during Senate confirmation hearings Tuesday.
Ernest Moniz, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and former undersecretary at the department, praised the U.S. natural gas “revolution” brought about by widespread use of fracking and said it must continue.
He also promoted the transition to a “low-carbon” economy, a nod toward renewable fuels and indication that his Energy Department would invest in solar, wind and other green sources.
Mr. Moniz even had kind words for coal, saying the fuel — public enemy No. 1 in the environmental community and among many liberals in Congress — is likely to remain a part of the American energy portfolio, though he stipulated that clean coal technologies are an essential part of that equation.
“The president is an all-of-the-above person, and I am an all-of-the-above person,” Mr. Moniz told the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
He is expected to cruise through the confirmation process with little difficulty and is widely viewed as a qualified, noncontroversial choice.
Mr. Moniz is the second piece of the White House’s three-part process of rebuilding its energy and environmental team for a second term, a period in which climate change is expected to be a top priority.
The Senate Energy Committee already has cleared Sally Jewell, the former CEO of outdoor retail giant REI, to lead the Interior Department. Like Mr. Moniz, Ms. Jewell is seen as at least somewhat friendly toward oil and natural gas. She also says she backs an all-of-the-above energy strategy.
The most controversial of Mr. Obama’s picks will appear before a Senate committee Thursday, when Gina McCarthy’s confirmation process to lead the Environmental Protection Agency begins.
Unlike Ms. Jewell and Mr. Moniz, Ms. McCarthy and the agency she wants to lead are seen by Republicans and some Democrats as hostile toward fossil fuels, particularly coal.
While the EPA moves to stop the construction of new coal-fired power plants — a strategy that is all but certain to continue under Ms. McCarthy’s leadership — Mr. Moniz reassured coal-state senators that he believes the fuel won’t be shoved aside.
“We see coal as being a continuing, major part of the energy supply in the U.S., and certainly in the world,” he said. “We do think that as we go to a low-carbon economy, we really have to push hard on completing the investments that have been made, nearly $6 billion” in clean-coal technology.
Mr. Obama’s stimulus package, for example, directed funds toward clean-coal research. If strict greenhouse gas emissions limits and other policies remain in place, those technologies are the only realistic way coal can remain viable for the long-term.
But much more money has been spent on solar, wind and other green fuel projects, including disasters such as the failed investment in Solyndra LLC that cost taxpayers more than $530 million.
“How much longer do you think taxpayers will have to subsidize renewables until they’re able to compete in the marketplace on their own?” asked Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat and one of the harshest critics of the administration’s energy policies.
Mr. Moniz said he has been encouraged by how price-competitive renewable fuels have become and believes that will continue in the coming years.