Physicist Ernest Moniz won Senate confirmation to lead the Energy Department and help direct clean-energy investments while deciding how much of the U.S.’s natural gas bounty should be exported.
The Senate voted 97-0 for Moniz, who ran an energy research institute while at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and served on a blue ribbon panel studying nuclear waste issues during President Barack Obama’s first term.
Obama has now filled two of three open slots to run U.S. agencies responsible for implementing his energy and environmental agenda. The Senate last month confirmed Sally Jewell, a former chief executive of an outdoors equipment outfitter, as Interior secretary. Gina McCarthy’s nomination to lead the Environmental Protection Agency has run into resistance from Republicans.
Moniz will “be an outstanding secretary of energy, and we look forward to working with him,” Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said before the vote.
Graham had placed a hold on Moniz’s nomination because of an administration decision to suspend work on a South Carolina plutonium processing plant beset by cost overruns.
Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Moniz was smart, savvy and “solution oriented” and understood how the Energy Department worked.
Moniz, 68, served as Energy Department under secretary from 2007-2011. He replaces Steven Chu, also a physics professor before joining the administration in 2009.
Chu was credited with setting up the Advanced Research Projects Agency -- Energy and for overseeing a multi billion-dollar increase in clean-energy investment funded by 2009 economic stimulus spending.
Not all the federal spending has paid dividends. Republicans criticized Chu for backing companies including Solyndra LLC, a solar-panel maker in California that went bankrupt after the U.S. backed more than $500 million in loans.
Moniz will take over management of the clean-energy loan program, including an $8.3 billion guarantee under review for Southern Co.’s Vogtle nuclear power plant.
One of Moniz’s first decisions probably will be on whether to approve applications to build terminals to export liquefied natural gas to nations including Japan that don’t have free-trade deals with the U.S.
The U.S. has about 20 applications for export facilities under review. Dow Chemical Co. has argued that the U.S. shouldn’t approve significant exports because it could raise domestic prices for gas, which it uses as an ingredient for its products.
Exxon Mobil Corp. has said the market should determine how much is sold overseas, and that exports will create jobs and lower the U.S. trade deficit.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted 10-8 along party lines earlier today to send McCarthy’s nomination to the full Senate.