Energy Secretary Moniz Emerges As ‘Green’ Guy Who Soothes Industry Concerns

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz doesn’t have much to say about the Keystone XL pipeline.
By @TrishaMarczakMP |
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    Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz of Massachusetts, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 9, 2013, before a Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing on his nomination. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

    Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz of Massachusetts, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 9, 2013, before a Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing on his nomination. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

    Newly minted Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz doesn’t have much to say about the proposed 1,700-mile Keystone Pipeline poised to be built from the Alberta tar sands to the Gulf of Texas.

    Despite holding the highest office in the federal Energy Department, Moniz has refused to voice his views on what would be the nation’s largest oil pipeline. Instead, he’s deflected comments to the State Department, which ultimately has the final word on whether to approve the project.

    When it comes to coal operations, Moniz’s views tend to be directed at calming the nerves of coal producers, who have recently been the target for greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

    “Any serious effort to protect our kids from the worst effects of climate change must also include developing, demonstrating, and deploying the technologies to use our abundant fossil fuel resources as cleanly as possible.” Moniz said in prepared remarks given to Bloomberg News regarding Moniz’s tour of the Energy Department’s National Energy Technology Laboratory in West Virginia.

    In a speech given at Georgetown University in June, President Barack Obama delivered his climate change address, calling for coal operations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent. His declaration was largely seen by the industry and Republican lawmakers as out of line, pointing to the cost coal-fired operations will be forced into if mandated technology reducing emissions is required. In the end, the argue that cost will ultimately trickle down to consumers.

    While Moniz still touts the need for clean coal energy, he’s leaving the narrow path Obama paved, assuring coal-fired companies that coal isn’t going anywhere.

    At this point, his role has been one more akin to industry embassador than clean energy crusader. While Gina McCarthy, the new head of the EPA, is in a position to calm the nerves of environmental advocates who claim Obama’s policies don’t go far enough to kick fossil fuels, Moniz’s role has been to calm the nerves of industry upset over heightened regulations.

    Considering his history of taking part in oil industry-funded research, Moniz knows how to work both sides of the game — emerging as a calming voice for clean energy proponents, while also catering to the desires of big business.

    “What Moniz’s job may be, because he does have credibility as a guy who understands energy, is to go around telling everybody that everything is going to be OK, don’t get too upset,” Dan Kish, senior vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research, told the Washington Times. “Frankly, Moniz understands energy. He’s stepped in it. He at least understands energy and the importance of it. He’s not going to go out of his way to punch people in the nose.”

     

    A show of support for fracking

    “As United States Secretary of Energy, Dr. Ernest Moniz is tasked with implementing critical Department of Energy missions in support of President Obama’s goals of growing the economy, enhancing security and protecting the environment.”

    That’s the description the U.S. Energy Department gives to Secretary Moniz. On paper, Moniz’s policies regarding clean energy and greenhouse gas emissions satisfy the latter part of his job description. Yet his policies on the issues tend to indicate he’s “clean energy” with a broad brush.

    In an Aug. 1 tweet, Moniz stated, “We spend abt (about) $1 billion/day on foreign oil. Imagine what a difference it’d make if we spent instead on homegrown energy in U.S.”

    While not a full-out endorsement of fracking in the U.S., it alludes to support of the fracking on U.S. land as a viable alternative to foreign oil reliance — a statement he’s consistently made in the past.

    Given his resume, it’s not shocking that Moniz has thrown his support behind the fracking wagon.

    In 2006, Ernest Moniz was serving as director of the MIT Energy Initiative, a research-based technology group that received $145 million in oil and gas industry funding in its seven years of existence, according to the Public Accountability Initiative. Oil giants BP and Chevron were among its investors.

    In 2011, Moniz published a study titled, “The Future of Natural Gas,” which painted a positive picture of fracking growth in the U.S., labeling any environmental impact issues as capable of being handled.

    Prior to the report’s release, Moniz sat on the board of ICF International, a consulting firm that is linked with oil and gas companies, according to the Public Accountability Initiative. Before Moniz joined ICF’s board, the CEO, Sudhakar Kesavan indicated that shale gas (obtainable through fracking) would be one of three economic drivers in its energy portfolio.

    Since 2011, Moniz has received $305,000 for his work on the board. According to Democracy Now, Moniz also served as a trustee of the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center, a non profit funded by Saudi Aramco, the largest Saudi oil company, which also is half owner of a Texas refinery recently remodeled to process Canadian tar sands.

    Prior to sitting on ICF’s board, Moniz served on the advisory board for NGP Energy Technology Partners, another investment organization tied to the shale oil industry.

    “Key authors of the study, including Moniz himself, failed to disclose personal financial conflicts of interest in report materials or at events where the report was presented,” the Public Accountability Initiative states in its report, “Industry Partner of Industry Puppet?”

    The study at hand is MIT Energy Initiative’s “The Future of Natural Gas,” which painted the fracking boom in the U.S. as one that would lead to a “low carbon future.”

    “The report put an environmental spin on the natural gas extraction process known as ‘fracking’ at a time when it was coming under fire from environmentalists, academics and journalists,” the Public Accountability Initiative paper states. “The MIT banner gave the report special credibility and its findings were widely reported.”

    Environmental organization Food and Water Watch echoed those sentiments, warning in the midst of Moniz’s appointment as Energy Secretary that his rhetoric wasn’t to be trusted.

    “Dr. Moniz has been caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar, attempting to influence our nation’s energy agenda while he possibly had one of his own,” Food and Water Watch said in a statement. “The studies show that Dr. Moniz failed to disclose his ties to the oil and gas industry while serving as head of MIT’s Energy Initiative, and that he served on numerous industry boards and advisory councils, some of them which paid for his services.”

    MIT’s industry-funded report isn’t the only university-related research project to be pointed out as a work of what is now known as “Frackademia.” The University of Texas Energy Institute released a report in 2011 claiming fracking has no impact on groundwater contamination. It was later discovered that the lead investigator for the report, Charles Groat, was also the head of PXP oil exploration. Following the revelation, Groat retired.

     

    Taking issue with Moniz’s nuclear stance

    In 2011, Moniz wrote an opinion piece for Foreign Affairs, a publication published by the Council on Foreign Relations. The article, titled, “Why We Still Need Nuclear Power,” was an all-out endorsement.

    Citing Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster, Moniz argued that such devastation, which is still causing toxic chemicals to leak into the ocean, shouldn’t be a hindrance to U.S. projects.

    “It would be a mistake, however, to let Fukushima cause governments to abandon nuclear power and its benefits,” he wrote. “Electricity generation emits more carbon dioxide in the U.S. than does transportation or industry, and nuclear power is the largest source of carbon-free electricity in the country.”

    Moniz also played up the value of cheap energy nuclear facilities provide, and called on the government to work with the private sector to make construction of nuclear power plants more affordable.

    Environmental organizations have long called for a halt to nuclear power plants in the U.S. Greenpeace, a staunch opponent to the nuclear movement, points to scenarios like that of the Fukushima disaster as evidence of what can happen when nuclear goes wrong.

    On its webpage, Greenpeace describes what could go wrong in the U.S. if a malfunction were to take place.

    “If a meltdown were to occur the accident could  kill and injure tens of thousands of people, leaving large regions uninhabitable. And, more than 50 years after splitting the first atom, science has yet to devise a method for adequately handling long lived radioactive wastes,” its site states.

    “It’s a grand experiment over there,” Greenpeace Nuclear Policy Analyst Jim Ruccio told Mint Press News in an August interview. “They don’t know what they’re doing, they’ve never faced this before,and they’re not being as open as they should be.”

    Ruccio was referring to the ongoing radioactive water leaks at the power plant.

    “The only way to prevent this is to phase out nuclear reactors,” he said.

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