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Ernest Moniz's 'Clean Coal' Stance Draws Fire From Environmental Groups

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U.S. Undersecretary of Energy Ernest Moniz welcomes participants to a plenary session at the the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Energy Ministers Conference in San Diego, Thursday, May 11, 2000. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy) | AP

When President Barack Obama tapped MIT physicist Ernest Moniz to be the next Secretary of Energy earlier this month, environmentalists were quick to raise concerns over his outspoken support of hydraulic fracturing for shale gas. Now they're worried about his record on clean coal.

Moniz has endorsed Obama's "all of the above" energy policy, which includes the kinds of fossil fuel production frowned upon by environmentalists, such as hydrofracking and offshore oil drilling, and he shares the president’s support of clean coal technology.

He also co-authored a 2009 report on reducing carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants, which looked favorably on the use of so-called clean coal. "It's cheap," he said at the time, "there's lots of it and there's lots of it in places with high demand, namely the U.S., China and India." He added, "Sequestration is a key enabling technology for coal use in a carbon-constrained world."

Sequestration, as outlined in that report, involves capturing the carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants, compressing it into a liquid, then injecting it deep into the earth's old oil fields or saline aquifers, according to Scientific American, which reported on the study when it was released.

"The world needs both more electricity and less pollution," Moniz wrote in a New York Times op-ed in 2003. "The goals are not incompatible, but the solution will require better management of demand, smarter use of coal as well as renewable energy sources, and increased use of nuclear power."

Environmental advocacy group the Sierra Club has made securing the retirement of a third of the nation's coal-fired power plants the center of its environmental agenda. Its executive director, Michael Brune, has encouraged Moniz to move beyond clean coal.

"In his role as secretary of Energy, we urge Mr. Moniz to prioritize clean, renewable energy as climate solutions over destructive fossil fuels," Brune told HuffPost in an email. "We would stress to him that an 'all of the above' energy policy only means 'more of the same,' and we urge him to leave behind dangerous nuclear energy, toxic fracking and mythical 'clean coal' while focusing instead on truly safe, clean energy sources like wind and solar."

Other environmental groups are less willing to work with Moniz, and see him as an unacceptable candidate for the post. "His appointment to the DOE could set renewable energy development back years," said Food and Water Watch, which is circulating a petition opposing his appointment.

League of Conservation Voters' spokesman Jeff Gohringer is confident any differences can be worked out. "We’re confident President Obama's cabinet will work together," he said, "and meet his goals of combating climate change and building a clean energy future that transitions our nation away from dirty sources of energy."

Moniz's confirmation hearing in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources has yet to be scheduled.

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