Newly minted Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on Thursday downplayed his role in deciding whether the Keystone XL oil pipeline will be built.
Mr. Moniz, a widely respected scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who took over the Energy Department about 10 weeks ago, indicated that he has yet to be consulted on the Canada-to-Texas project, which remains in limbo after years of White House reviews. Its fate ultimately rests with President Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry, and it appears the Energy Department will have little, if any, say in the matter.
“My basic thought is that the responsibility rests with Secretary Kerry to do the analysis and make a recommendation on that,” Mr. Moniz told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “If we are asked to comment, it would be purely on some technical issues as opposed to the decision-making process.”
Mr. Obama in recent days has belittled the economic impact and the environmental benefits that would result from the huge pipeline, but he has yet to reveal his decision on whether to give the Canadian-built project the green light.
In one of his first sit-downs with reporters since taking the job, Mr. Moniz also touted the administration’s continued commitment to investments in renewable fuels, and he said that the natural gas drilling method known as fracking can be done safely and will remain an important part of the nation’s energy strategy for years to come.
He stopped short of calling for a tax on carbon emissions — a step many Democrats in Congress and environmental groups want to see — but did say that “some sort of carbon policy” at the federal level is necessary to further drive down U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Such a policy, Mr. Moniz added, will fit into the broader climate-change agenda laid out by Mr. Obama during his speech last month at Georgetown University.
He also pushed back against congressional Republicans and others who claim the administration is hellbent on cutting coal out of the energy marketplace.
With new technology, Mr. Moniz said, coal can continue to play a key role in powering the nation.
“This administration put $6 billion into carbon-capture” projects, he said “What we really have to do is reduce the carbon-capture costs.”
Rather than eliminating coal — which provides about 40 percent of the nation’s electricity — Mr. Moniz said research must focus on clean-coal technology that allows power plants and other facilities to trap CO2 emissions.
Such technology is vital for the coal industry, which faces strict new emissions limits from the Environmental Protection Agency that will be virtually impossible to meet without some type of carbon-capture method.
While the technology itself already exists, it’s costs are prohibitive for U.S. companies. Mr. Moniz said the underlying goal of federal investment is to make it affordable.
“The goal of innovation in this business is to drive the cost down across the board,” he said.