WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday voted to confirm nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz as U.S. secretary of energy. The vote was 97-0.
Moniz, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, had previously served as energy undersecretary in the Clinton administration.
His nomination had been held up for weeks by a dispute between the White House and senators from South Carolina regarding funding for a nuclear project to turn weapons-grade plutonium into commercial nuclear reactor fuel in their home state. The opposition was spearheaded Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who objected to Obama’s plan to cut roughly $200 million from the state project. Graham argued the cut would jeopardize a plant being built at South Carolina’s Savannah River nuclear site.
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. He also shares the president’s support of clean coal technology.
Moniz will fill the position of Steven Chu, who served as energy secretary in Obama’s first term. His confirmation comes as the department prepares to make a series of decisions regarding energy investments and the future of natural gas exports.
While his position on clean coal had initially drawn fire from environmental groups, environmentalists' tone on Thursday was celebratory, if cautious.
"The Sierra Club and its 2.1 million members and supporters congratulate Dr. Ernest Moniz on his confirmation as the new Secretary of Energy," Deb Nardone, the Sierra Club's Beyond Natural Gas campaign director said in a statement Thursday. "As energy secretary, Dr. Moniz will make important decisions that will shape America’s energy and climate landscape for decades to come, including the agency’s response to 24 proposed liquefied natural gas terminals that could export up to 45 percent of the nation’s total natural gas production. We urge Secretary Moniz to take a time out on exports to complete a thorough economic and environmental assessment."