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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Green Team in the Hot Seat

Air Date: Week of

President Barack Obama announces the nominations of, from left, Ernest Moniz as Energy Secretary, Gina McCarthy as Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, and Sylvia Mathews Burwell as Director of the Office of Management and Budget, in the East Room of the White House, March 4, 2013. Official White house Photo

Two of the nominees for posts in President Obama’s Green Team recently faced confirmation hearings in the Senate. Ernest Moniz, nominee for Secretary of Energy, and Gina McCarthy, nominated to head the EPA, answered questions on a number of difficult environmental questions.


CURWOOD: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Boston, this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. Four months into his second term President 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-designate Ernest Moniz was President Clinton’s undersecretary of energy, and the experience showed at his confirmation hearings on April 9.

MONIZ: The President has advocated an all of the above energy strategy, and if confirmed as Secretary I will pursue this with the highest priority. As the President said when he confirmed my nomination 'we can produce more energy and grow our economy while still taking care of our air, water, and climate.' The need to mitigate climate change risks is emphatically supported by the science and by the engaged scientific community. DOE should continue to support a robust R and D portfolio of low-carbon options, and to advance a 21st century electricity delivery system.

CURWOOD: When the MIT Professor was asked to introduce his family to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Moniz had some numbers.

MONIZ: I’d start with my wife of 39.83 years, Naomi…

Ernest Moniz, nominee for Secretary of Energy (photograph: Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

CURWOOD: Minnesota Democrat Al Franken challenged the professor's arithmetic.

FRANKEN: Dr. Moniz thank you for being with us. You said you’ve been married 39.83 years, may I remind you you’re under oath. Is your anniversary June 10th.

MONIZ: June 9. That’s in the rounding area – err error.

FRANKEN: All right, well we’ll have to consider.
CURWOOD: It was a light moment in a session that mostly dealt with dark matters. Professor Moniz is a nuclear physicist and Nevada Republican Dean Heller grilled him about the stalled Yucca Mountain nuclear waste depot.

HELLER: 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. 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.

CURWOOD: The chairman, Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon, complained about the Cold War era atomic weapons plant in Hanford, Washington, where radioactive waste has been leaking.

Ron Wyden, chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (photo: United States Senate)

WYDEN: As Congress works to address nuclear waste, it’s important that the Department take responsibility for contaminated waste sites like Hanford. 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 and more than a decade since Doctor Moniz served as undersecretary of energy.

CURWOOD: The Senator wanted reassurance that, if confirmed, Ernest Moniz would act. The professor replied that, were he confirmed, he would. By and large he had a warm reception, and his nomination is expected to sail through. A couple of days later EPA nominee Gina McCarthy faced the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Gina McCarthy, nominee for the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (photograph: EPA)

MCCARTHY: I'm deeply honored that President Obama has nominated me to lead the EPA. 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.

CURWOOD: The committee gave the nominee a cordial reception, but there was plenty of criticism of the agency she's been tapped to head. Some Republican Senators questioned the reality of climate science, and complained that EPA regulations are destroying industries and costing jobs. Here's John Barasso of Wyoming.

US Senator John Barasso (R-WY)

BARASSO: I'm not sure whether the nominee before us today is aware personally of so many folks who have lost their jobs because of the EPA, and a role I believe it is taking now, which is failing our country. The EPA is making it impossible for coal miners to feed their families. How many more times if confirmed with 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. 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 US, costing our country thousands of jobs.

CURWOOD: But Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont was having none of that argument.

US Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

SANDERS: Really this is not a debate about Gina McCarthy. Senator Barasso made it very clear what the debate is about. It is a debate 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. And in essence what Senator Barasso has just said is 'no'. He does not want the EPA to do that. He does not want the EPA to listen to science. What he wants is for us to continue doing as little as possible as we see extreme weather disturbances, drought, floods and heat waves all over the world take place. So, let me go on record and say I want the EPA to be vigorous in protecting our children and future generations from the horrendous crisis we face from global warming.

CURWOOD: Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Still, despite the heated rhetoric, even GOP members said they are looking forward to working with Gina McCarthy. And she too is expected to win confirmation.



Department of Energy

Environmental Protection Agency


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