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Senate takes up Moniz nomination for energy chief

Matthew Daly, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate has begun debate on President Barack Obama's nomination of physicist Ernest Moniz to lead the Energy Department.

Moniz, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, would replace Steven Chu, who served as Energy secretary in Obama's first term. Moniz served as an energy undersecretary in the Clinton administration.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina had delayed a vote on Moniz's nomination for several weeks to protest Obama's plan to cut about $200 million from a home-state project to turn weapons-grade plutonium into fuel for nuclear reactors.

Graham and other GOP lawmakers said the budget proposal jeopardized a plant being built at South Carolina's Savannah River nuclear site.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, called Moniz smart, savvy and solution-oriented.