Three months into his second term President Barack Obama is still building his green team.
Sally Jewell has finally been confirmed as Secretary of the Interior, but the President’s picks to run the Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy Department are waiting for Senate approval. Secretary of Energy-designee Ernest Moniz was President Clinton’s undersecretary of energy, and the experience showed at his confirmation hearings on April 9.
"The President has advocated an all-of-the-above energy strategy, and if confirmed as Secretary I will pursue this with the highest priority," he said in the hearings. But, "the need to mitigate climate change risks is emphatically supported by the science and by the engaged scientific community."
moniz also called for the energy department to continue funding research and development into low-carbon energy solutions and how to modernize the electrical delivery system.
But Moniz is also a nuclear physicist and Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller grilled him about the stalled Yucca Mountain nuclear waste depot.
"Yucca Mountain was plagued with problems, included falsified science, and design problems. Given this, it's no wonder that Nevadans don’t trust the assertions that Yucca Mountain is safe," Heller said. "The people in Nevada deserve to be safe in their own back yards. No amount of reassurance from the Federal government will convince us that Nevada should be the nation’s nuclear waste dump."
But he also took a beating on the nuclear issue from the left as well, with Democrat Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden complaining about the Cold War-era Hanford nuclear facility in Washington, which has been hit with radioactive material leaks.
"It’s important that the Department take responsibility for contaminated waste sites like Hanford," he said. "It’s flatly unacceptable that the department still has no viable plan to clean up the waste on the Columbia River half a century after the contamination occurred."
Moniz told the committee he would act on Hanford if he were confirmed. Overall, though, Moniz's nomination is expect to move through quickly. EPA nominee Gina McCarthy also faced confirmation hearings recently, where she was grilled, but is expected to move swiftly through to confirmation.
"Having spent my career in public service I know of no higher privilege than working with my colleagues at EPA, with Congress, and our public and private partners to ensure that American families can breathe clean air drink clean water and live learn and play in safer, healthier communities," she said.
The committee gave McCarthy a cordial reception, but there was plenty of criticism of the agency she's been tapped to head. Some Republican senators, including John Barasso of Wyoming, questioned the reality of climate science, and complained that EPA regulations are destroying industries and costing jobs.
"The EPA is making it impossible for coal miners to feed their families. How many more times if confirmed will this EPA director pull the regulatory lever and allow another mining family to fall through the trap door to joblessness, to poverty, and to poor health," he said. "Regulations and proposed rules on greenhouse gasses, coal ash, mercury emissions and industrial boilers have led to the closing of dozens of power plants in the U.S."
But Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who generally caucuses with Democrats, blasted Barasso for trying to turn McCarthy's confirmation hearing into an argument about global warming.
"And weather or not we are going to listen to the leading scientists of this country who are telling us that global warming is the most serious planetary crisis that we and the global community face and weather we are going to address that crisis in a serious manner," he said. "And in essence what Senator Barasso has just said is 'no'. He does not want the EPA to do that."
McCarthy's nomination is expected to be confirmed soon.