Do Obama cabinet picks match his greener second-term talk?
President Obama nominated new leaders for the Department of Energy and the EPA Monday. Environmentalists like one of them, energy-industry advocates like the other.
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The new nominees will have a large say over US policy. The Department of Energy approves permits for facilities to ship LNG abroad, and the EPA is involved in reviewing or critiquing environmental impact statements for those facilities. There are at least 24 applications to build LNG export terminals in ports around the US, where tankers would load up with domestically produced natural gas and ship it off to Asia and other energy hungry markets worldwide. The expansion of coal exports with new terminals in Oregon and Washington is also up for consideration.Skip to next paragraph
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Environmentalists praised McCarthy but questioned the nomination of Mr. Moniz, a professor of theoretical physics at MIT.
“Moniz has a history of supporting dirty and dangerous energy sources like gas and nuclear power with polluting partners including BP, Shell, Chevron and Saudi Armco,” noted Courtney Abrams of Environment America in a statement.
Members of the energy industry took the opposite view on the two nominees.
“Dr. Moniz’s work indicates an understanding that continued US shale gas development is vital to multiple sectors of the economy and as a means of lowering carbon emissions,” said Salo Zelermyer, a lobbyist at Bracewell & Giuliani, which represents energy companies, in a statement. He “can send an early positive signal by approving pending applications for LNG exports.”
Recent developments in the approval process for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline could provide insight on what lies ahead for LNG and coal. A preliminary report last week suggested that greenhouse emissions from Keystone might be lower than expected – prompting speculation that the administration could be leaning toward approving the deal. The broader lesson for proposed LNG and coal facilities, energy experts say, is that they could be in for a similarly thorough review.
For instance, a recent study by an Energy Department contractor forecast only a modest impact on US natural gas prices if the export terminals are built. But that study is being challenged, which could lead to further Energy Department evaluations during Moniz’s tenure, as well as EPA reviews of those proposals.
Given that the MIT study chaired by Moniz took a favorable view of LNG exports, how likely is Moniz to get his way in Washington? Certainly, he'll contribute, but he might not be able to "shift top-level debate within the White House policy" alone, writes Kevin Book, energy analyst at ClearView Partners, a Washington energy research firm, in an analysis of the appointment.
“We doubt that Dr. Moniz would have accepted the nomination without some assurance of direct influence of energy policy itself," the analysis says. "By the same token, Dr. Moniz is also an experienced Washington player who understands the political overlay of serving 'at the pleasure of the President.' ”
At the end of the day, Moniz at Energy and McCarthy at EPA “reinforce the greenish leanings of the President’s energy policy comments this year,” Mr. Book concludes.