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Obama's Possible Frack-Friendly Energy Plan a 'Nail in the Coffin' for Climate

Choice of MIT professor Ernest Moniz, known for championing gas fracking, as head of Department of Energy receives rebuke

Jon Queally, staff writer

MIT professor Ernest Moniz

Reports that President Obama is poised to nominate MIT professor Ernest Moniz to be the next head of the Department of Energy is raising serious concerns for those worried that the administration will betray its promise to take on the threat of the climate crisis by making a major domestic push for natural gas drilling using the controversial practice known as fracking.

The choice of Moniz, known for his adamant support for fracking—which he's called "paradigm-shifting"—seems to confirm reporting last week that a major part of Obama's plans for energy creation in his second term will be to "initiate widespread gas fracking in the US."

“Mr. Moniz is affiliated with the industry-backed MIT Energy Initiative, so we shouldn’t be surprised about his favorable position on fracking," said Mitch Jones from Food & Water Watch. "But President Obama could do a lot better."

"Appointing Mr. Moniz," Jones continued, "would be a nail in the coffin for one of his most lauded inaugural speech promises: a commitment to focus on climate solutions.”

“Moniz is a status quo pick at a time when we can’t afford the status quo."

And speaking with The Hill newspaper, Public Citizen's Ty Slocum said: “Moniz is a status quo pick at a time when we can’t afford the status quo."

Obama is expected to nominate new heads for both the Dept. of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency as early as next week. Topping the expected list as the EPA's next head is Gina McCarthy, who currently heads the agency's Office of Air and Radiation under the outgoing Lisa Jackson.

McCarthy, whose focus on air quality and pollution from traditional coal and gas-fired plants will make her a target of the fossil fuel industry and its allies in Congress, appears cautiously agreeable to environmental groups though most have to weigh in strongly for or against the longtime Massachusetts energy regulator.

But for Moniz, coupled with the growing controversy over the dangers of groundwater pollution and climate impacts of the methane released by fracking, the most serious opposition will likely come from those who challenge the idea the natural gas is a "clean energy" or that a investing in a so-called "bridge fuel" is a better alternative than the swift transition to a truly renewable energy system.

“Mr. Moniz's appointment to the DOE could set renewable energy development back years," concluded Jones. "If we pursue our fossil fuel addiction by expanding fracking, which Mr. Moniz will likely advocate, the oil and gas industry will thrive while true energy efficiency and renewable solutions languish. Our water, public health and climate would suffer."

And The Hill adds:

A major 2011 study the MIT energy program released said that environmental risks of developing gas from shale formations, which is achieved through fracking, are “challenging but manageable.”

Bill Snape, the senior counsel with the Center for Biological Diversity, said he’s concerned that Moniz’s support for natural gas could bring a shift in focus away from the development of renewable electricity and smart-grid technologies.

“The concern I have with him is, he has the veneer of this MIT PhD scientist, that somehow he is going to be objective, and in reality he could very well be a political hack for the natural gas industry,” Snape said.


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