WASHINGTON — The Senate energy committee formally approved the nomination of Ernest J. Moniz to be energy secretary, the committee announced on Thursday.
The 21-to-1 vote is an indication that Mr. Moniz, who served as an undersecretary in the Energy Department in the Clinton administration, will have no trouble being confirmed by the full Senate. Some opponents had complained that an energy initiative he leads at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is financed heavily by the oil industry and other conventional energy industries. Mr. Moniz is a physicist and strong advocate of natural gas and nuclear power as cleaner alternatives to coal.
Moniz, a physicist at MIT and former undersecretary of energy, has made his support for natural gas production in the United States clear, and he used Tuesday’s hearings as an opportunity to double down on this position. According to the Washington Post, Moniz said he would use the natural gas boom as a means of reducing carbon emissions, increasing domestic energy production and expanding manufacturing job growth.
While Moniz appeared unequivocal in his views on natural gas, he was less clear on his position concerning liquefied natural gas (LNG) exportation. Moniz’s position on the issue is paramount to the future on LNG exportation, because the Department of Energy is responsible for approving companies’ applications to construct LNG export terminals.
Moniz’s previous work appears to reveal support for LNG exports. In 2011, Moniz led a study at MIT claiming that the United States should not prevent LNG exports. According to the report, “The U.S. should sustain North American energy market integration and support development of a global ‘liquid’ natural gas market with diversity of supply. A corollary is that the U.S. should not erect barriers to natural gas imports or exports.”
During Tuesday’s hearings, however, Moniz said that he would consider applications for export facilities on a case by case basis, which would include analysis as to whether exports were in the public interest and how they would affect domestic production. While Moniz is undoubtedly supportive of the natural gas boom, the question of LNG export policy remains.
Allowing the construction of LNG export terminals is one of the most contentious policy decisions in DOE’s purview. Manufacturing and energy intensive industries in the United States have prospered from the natural gas glut and the associated cheap prices, and these industries would benefit from a continuation of abundant domestic supply. Domestic energy businesses, on the other hand, would like to take advantage of the opportunity to export LNG to higher priced international markets. The Obama administration approved the first and only LNG export facility a year ago. Other applicants are still awaiting their fate, which will likely rest in the hands of Moniz.