Senate Confirms Ernest Moniz as Secretary of Energy

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Publication date: 
17 May 2013

By a vote of 97-0 yesterday, the Senate confirmed Ernest Moniz to be the new Secretary of Energy.

By a vote of 97-0 yesterday, the Senate confirmed Ernest Moniz to be the new Secretary of Energy.  He will replace Steven Chu who held this position since President Obama took office.

Obama announced his intention to nominate Moniz to be the next Energy Secretary on March 4.   His confirmation hearing was held on April 9. 

Yesterday’s Executive Session of the Senate to consider this nomination mirrored that of the President’s announcement and the confirmation hearing, with much praise for the nominee and recognition of his scientific credentials.  Final Senate floor action on the nomination was delayed by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) as a way to draw attention to his dissatisfaction with the construction schedule for a MOX facility at DOE’s Savannah River Site to convert 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium into power plant fuel.  At the outset of his remarks, Graham told his colleagues “I put a hold on Dr. Moniz. It has nothing to do with him. He is a wonderful fellow. He is an MIT professor. He has been amply associated with the Department of Energy, including the MOX Program. All of us in Georgia and South Carolina look forward to working with him.”

All senators who spoke offered praise for Moniz.  The following are selections from remarks made during yesterday’s session regarding his scientific background, with references to two physics facilities supported by the Department of Energy:

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK):

“Dr. Moniz has some pretty impressive credentials. He is a physicist, having graduated from Boston College before completing his Ph.D. at Stanford. He served in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and as an Under Secretary of the Department of Energy during the late 1990s.

“For the vast majority of his career, he has also served as the director of the MIT Energy Initiative. He has studied and written about nuclear energy, natural gas, innovation -- really any number of topics with direct relevance for the future of our energy policy. So he has both. He has the academic experience, most certainly, as we see at MIT and at Stanford, but he also has that practical application. My colleague from Oregon [Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)] described him as solution oriented, and I think that is a very apt description. He is an impressive nominee.”


Senator William Cowan (D-MA):

“In Massachusetts, we are grateful for the decades of service he has given to one of the finest institutions not just in the Commonwealth [of Massachusetts] but in the world, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology - otherwise known as MIT - where he has been a faculty member since 1973. Dr. Moniz has led many groundbreaking initiatives at MIT, including most recently serving as the funding director of the MIT Energy Initiative and leading the MIT Laboratory for Energy and the Environment. Through the MIT Energy Initiative, he has been at the forefront of multidisciplinary technology and policy studies on the future of nuclear power, coal, nuclear fuel cycles, natural gas, and solar energy. The initiative has spun out numerous startup companies from the campus lab into the emerging and important clean energy economy.

“In addition to his many years of service to the Commonwealth, Dr. Moniz also knows his way around this town, which I am sure will serve him well in his new position. He served previously as Under Secretary of the Department of Energy and before that as Associate Director for Science in the Office of Science and Technology Policy for President Clinton.

“One of the biggest challenges he will undoubtedly face as Secretary is how to continue critical U.S. investments in emerging energy technologies, including fusion, in the face of a difficult budget climate. While I recognize that, as Secretary, Dr. Moniz will need to recuse himself from this particular issue, I strongly support continued DOE funding of the domestic fusion energy research program at MIT, the C-Mod Program, which has for years led in fusion science and is an incubator for the next generation of fusion scientists. Unless additional action is taken by DOE, the C-Mod research facility at MIT will be abruptly terminated, 130 fusion scientists, engineers, graduate students, and support personnel at MIT would also be terminated, and hundreds of millions of dollars invested in this program over the past generation will be lost.

“Our Nation's domestic fusion program simply cannot withstand the proposed reductions without a severe negative impact to our fusion research and our scientific contributions to the international fusion research community. This shortsighted approach could eliminate the ability of the United States to take a lead role in the development of the next generation of energy research.”


Senator Thomas Carper (D-DE):

“I am honored and privileged to stand here today and to say good words on behalf of Ernest Jay Moniz, also known as Dr. Moniz and Ernie Moniz. He is one of my favorite people from the world of academia. I have in my hand a bio of him that I will read out loud. It is not very long, and it is worth listening to.

“Dr. Ernest J. Moniz is the Cecil and Ida Green professor of physics and engineering systems at MIT. His research at MIT, where he has served on the faculty since 1973, has focused on energy technology and policy.   Dr. Moniz also serves as the director of MIT's Energy Initiative and the MIT Laboratory for Energy and the Environment.  From 1997 until 2001, Dr. Moniz served as Under Secretary of the Department of Energy. Prior to that time, he served as Associate Director for Science in the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Executive Office of the President from 1995 until 1997.

“In addition to his work at MIT and the Department of Energy, Dr. Moniz has served on any number of boards and commissions, including the President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology from 2009 until today, the Department of Defense Threat Reduction Advisory Committee from 2010 until today, and on the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future from 2010 to 2012.

“Dr. Moniz is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Humboldt Foundation, and the American Physical Society. In 1998 he received the Seymour Cray HPCC Recognition Award for vision and leadership in advancing scientific simulation.”


Senator Carl Levin (D-MI):  

“I am pleased to support President Obama's nomination of Dr. Ernest J. Moniz to be the next Secretary of Energy. Dr. Moniz has a solid and extensive background in the energy field and I believe will bring a balanced and practical perspective to our Nation's energy policy. Dr. Moniz has significant familiarity with the Department of Energy and its issues, having served as Under Secretary during the second Clinton administration. During the Obama administration, he has served in a number of advisory positions, including as a member of the President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology, the Department of Defense Threat Reduction Advisory Committee, and the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future.”

“I recently had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Moniz and to highlight several issues of importance to the State of Michigan and to the Nation. I look forward to working with Dr. Moniz on these issues.

“Among these issues is the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, FRIB, which will be the world's most powerful rare isotope accelerator and provide cutting-edge research capabilities to study questions about the fundamental nature of matter. Applications of research discoveries from FRIB will assist development of new technologies in the fields of biomedicine, environmental science, and national defense. Michigan State University, MSU, was selected in 2008 after an extensive competitive process, and the FRIB project plans and schedules have been through rigorous Federal review.

“As home of the National Science Foundation's National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory, MSU has solid and well-known expertise in the field of rare isotopes and nuclear physics, with the largest nuclear physics faculty in the Nation and a nuclear physics graduate program that ranks No. 1 in the United States. MSU already produces 10 percent of the Nation's Ph.D.s in nuclear physics. In addition to expanding our knowledge of physics and the life science, successful completion of FRIB also will enhance the education of nuclear scientists and engineers needed to maintain U.S. competitiveness.”


Following yesterday’s vote, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that held the nomination hearing, issued the following statement:

“My Senate colleagues recognize that Dr. Moniz is smart, he is savvy about how the Department of Energy operates because he has been there before, and he has a proven track record of collaboration, which is just what you need when you’re leading the Department of Energy.  I look forward to working with him to address the hugely important issues facing the department: how to manage newly accessible reserves of natural gas, how to combat climate change, how to make our economy more efficient and how to clean up Hanford and other nuclear waste sites.”