Speculation about potential replacements for two Obama administration officials who are leaving top spots at energy-related agencies continues, with nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) air pollution official Gina McCarthy reportedly among the leading candidates.

Official nominations of Moniz as Energy Secretary and McCarthy as EPA Administrator could come before the end of the week, according to several published reports.

Moniz, who was a DOE undersecretary in the Clinton administration, is one of the most often mentioned names reportedly being considered to take over at the Department of Energy (DOE). Current Energy Secretary Steven Chu said earlier this month that he will not serve a second term in the Obama administration (see NGI, Feb. 4). Moniz, who currently serves as science adviser in the administration and director of the MIT Energy Initiative (see NGI, June 28, 2010), would be familiar to lawmakers on Capital Hill, where he has testified on a variety of energy issues.

Moniz has been a modest supporter of natural gas for several years, singing its praises as a “bridge fuel” even as he called for more funding for renewable energy. In 2010 he co-authored an MIT study that concluded that gas will be a leader in reducing U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over the next several decades, mostly by replacing older, inefficient coal plants with combined-cycle gas generation.

“Much has been said about natural gas as a bridge to a low-carbon future, with little underlying analysis to back up this contention,” he said at the time. “The analysis in this study provides the confirmation: natural gas truly is a bridge to a low-carbon future.” In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, Moniz said natural gas could be the most economical energy choice as Japan and the United States look for fuel alternatives for power generation.

In testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in 2011, Moniz said the United States should not put restrictions on either the import or export of liquefied natural gas (LNG) (see NGI, July 25, 2011). A world market would help U.S. allies in Europe, which now have to rely on imports from the Middle East, North Africa and through the Russian pipeline. The MIT Energy Initiative believes “that natural gas is not given the attention it should have in the State Department for U.S. foreign policy,” he said.

Environmentalists and groups representing the renewable energy industry are less enthusiastic about a Moniz nomination. “Mr. Moniz is a known cheerleader for exploiting our reserves of natural gas using a highly controversial and polluting practice known as hydraulic fracturing,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “His appointment to the DOE could set renewable energy development back years.”

Chu will become a faculty member at Stanford University this spring, according to The Stanford Daily. He was a professor of physics and applied physics at Stanford prior to his time at DOE.

McCarthy’s name has been mentioned as a possible EPA head since current Administrator Lisa Jackson in December said she would resign (see NGI, Jan. 7). She currently serves as assistant administrator in EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, where she played a key role in the agency’s efforts under Jackson to eliminate harmful air pollution from oil and natural gas production (see NGI, April 23, 2012; Aug.1, 2011). EPA is currently headed by Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who oversaw a moratorium on offshore drilling after the BP oil spill and the restructuring of the agency during his tenure, has said he will step down in March. Obama has named Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) CEO Sally Jewell as his nominee for secretary of the Department of Interior (see NGI, Feb. 11).

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