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Moniz wins unanimous Senate approval to be energy secretary

By Bob Downing Published: June 5, 2013

From the Associated Press:

Physicist Ernest Moniz won unanimous Senate confirmation to be the nation's new energy secretary.

Moniz, 68, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, replaces Steven Chu, who served as energy secretary in President Barack Obama's first term. Moniz served as an energy undersecretary in the Clinton administration.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, called Moniz "solution-oriented" and said he is "smart about energy policy and savvy about Energy Department operations."

Obama hailed Moniz as "a world-class scientist with expertise in a range of energy sources and a leader with a proven record of bringing prominent thinkers and innovators together to advance new energy solutions."

Moniz shares his belief that "the United States must lead the world in developing more sustainable sources of energy that create new jobs and new industries, and in responding to the threat of global climate change," Obama said in a statement.

As energy secretary, Moniz will face an array of challenges, as the administration continues to promote renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar power, even as it pushed to promote traditional fuel such as oil and natural gas.

In particular, Moniz will soon decide whether to approve a major expansion of U.S. natural gas exports that could create thousands of jobs, spur economic growth and help offset the nation's enormous trade deficit.

Increased exports also could lead to further increases in hydraulic fracturing, a drilling technique also known as fracking that has allowed companies to gain access to huge stores of natural gas but raised widespread concerns about alleged groundwater contamination and even earthquakes.

Federal law requires the Energy Department to determine that natural gas exports are in the public interest before granting permits to countries that do not have free-trade agreements with the United States.

Moniz, who heads an energy initiative at MIT, is widely seen as sympathetic to the natural gas industry. At a Senate hearing last month, he called the "stunning increase" in natural gas production a "revolution" that has led to reduced emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that cause global warming.

A recent study commissioned by the department concluded that exporting natural gas would benefit the U.S. economy even if it leads to higher domestic prices for the fuel.

Skip Horvath, president and CEO of the Natural Gas Supply Association, an industry group, called Moniz "informed, engaged and forthcoming" in his approach to natural gas. "His vast experience in energy will be an asset to the administration," Horvath said.

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