President Obama has nominated Gina McCarthy to succeed Lisa Jackson as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Ernest Moniz as his new energy secretary.
McCarthy was the head of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation under Lisa Jackson, and spearheaded the administration’s efforts to limit carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants and increase fuel standards. She’s been in Louisville several times over the past few years…in November 2011 for the Festival of Faiths, and last July for the coal industry’s Coal-Gen conference.
The new EPA Administrator could be the biggest lightning rod, given that agency’s high profile in administration efforts to combat climate change. While the president has said he would prefer to attack greenhouse gases through legislation, the odds of passing a bill appear slim. A comprehensive climate bill failed in 2010, even though Democrats still controlled both houses of Congress.
That leaves regulation as the most likely course for climate action. The EPA is expected to craft rules limiting heat-trapping gases from existing power plants, which generate 40 percent of the country’s carbon pollution.
“Like Willie Sutton said when he was asked why he robbed banks, ‘That’s where the money is,’ ” said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “This is where the carbon is.”
Moniz is the director of MIT’s Energy Initiative. He’s a physicist, like former Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who is alarmed by climate change and is devoted to funding research into fossil fuel alternatives. His nomination has been praised by diverse groups, from the wind to the nuclear industry. But some environmental groups are cautious because of past comments Moniz has made about hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas.
But over the past couple of weeks, many environmentalists and some prominent renewable energy experts have tried to block the nomination of Moniz because of an MIT report supporting “fracking” — as hydraulic fracturing is commonly known — and because major oil and gas companies, including BP, Shell, ENI and Saudi Aramco, provided as much as $25 million each to the MIT Energy Initiative. Other research money came from a foundation bankrolled by shale gas giant Chesapeake Energy.
Ironically, the Energy Department has no jurisdiction over fracking policy. The Environmental Protection Agency is weighing whether to impose new regulations under the Clean Water and Clean Air acts. The Interior Department owns many of the lands that oil companies want to exploit and is devising standards for fracking in those areas. State governments currently handle most regulation.
Both nominees have to be confirmed by the Senate.