President Obama last week gave his official nod to nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz as nominee for secretary of the Department of Energy (DOE), and to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) air pollution official Gina McCarthy to head up the EPA.

The natural gas industry could be impacted by both nominations. In Moniz’s portfolio is a decision on natural gas exports and a major long-term study of hydraulic fracturing. McCarthy also will preside over EPA’s own investigations of wellhead drilling practices and emissions.

The nomination of McCarthy elicited concerns from the oil and gas industry. ‘We hope McCarthy shares the president’s stated vision for ‘all-of-the-above’ energy strategy and will support only sound EPA regulations that reduce potential adverse impacts on employment and energy costs while protecting the environment,” said Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, which represents major producers.

“President Obama says his top priority is creating American jobs, and we will continue working with the EPA and the administration to help avoid jeopardizing that goal. The problem is that EPA, in many cases, is not proposing regulations that meet this goal,” he said.

The Virginia-based political advocacy group Americans for Limited Government (ALG) called on the Senate to reject McCarthy as administrator of the EPA, claiming she was unfit for the post.

But environmental groups — such as the Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and U.S. Climate Action Network — praised Obama’s choice of McCarthy. “In Gina McCarthy, the president has made another outstanding choice to lead the EPA as it continues to work to protect our air, our water and our climate. McCarthy’s nomination reinforces President Obama’s intention to adopt scientific solutions to public health, environmental and climate changes,” the groups said.

Environmentalists and groups representing the renewable energy industry are less enthusiastic about the 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.”

McCarthy would replace Lisa Jackson, who resigned from the EPA in December (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.

EPA is currently headed by Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe.

Moniz, who was a DOE undersecretary in the Clinton administration, would succeed current Energy Secretary Steven Chu (see NGI, Feb. 4). Moniz currently serves as science adviser in the administration and director of the MIT Energy Initiative (see NGI, Feb. 25). He is a familiar face to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, where he has testified on a variety of energy issues.

Moniz is seen as friendly to natural gas development, calling it a “bridge fuel” even as he has 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 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.

Testifying 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 (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.

If confirmed by the Senate, a Moniz DOE could speed up department approvals of licenses to export LNG to countries with which the United States does not have free trade agreements.

Upon leaving DOE, 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.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is scheduled to step down later this month. Obama has named Sally Jewell, former CEO of Recreational Equipment Inc., as his nominee to succeed Salazar (see related story).

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