If the Senate confirms Ernest Moniz, BC ’66, as the next U.S. Secretary of Energy, two of the 15 members of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet will be Boston College alumni. Secretary of State John Kerry, BC Law ’76, assumed office on Feb. 1 this year-the date of Moniz’s confirmation hearing is as of yet undecided. He is poised to inherit the position from current Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, who served during Obama’s first term.
Moniz was the associate director for science in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy from 1995 to 1997, and was undersecretary of energy from 1997 to 2001. He currently serves on Obama’s council of advisors for science and technology, as well as the Department of Defense’s Threat Reduction Advisory Committee.
Old issues of The Heights highlighted various awards Moniz earned during his time at BC. In April of 1965, Moniz was one of seven students nominated as a Scholar of the College, who would conduct research with faculty support.
“Ernest Moniz is directing his efforts in the field of Physics,” the article read. “In particular Mr. Moniz will study Magnetic Resonance Physics in the solid state.” Moniz also qualified as a semifinalist in physics for the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship in 1966, the same year that he was one of 55 seniors inducted into the Order of the Cross and Crown, the honor society of the College of Arts and Sciences.
After graduating from BC in 1966 with a B.S. in physics, Moniz went on to Stanford University, where he earned his Ph.D. in theoretical physics, and then joined the faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1973. He is currently the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics and Engineering Systems and directs MIT’s Laboratory for Energy and the Environment. He is also the founding director of the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), which was launched in the fall of 2006 and focuses on energy-related research, education, and outreach. According to the program’s information page, “A key driver of MITEI is development of the capabilities needed to provide for a low-carbon future … At last count, more than two-thirds of the research projects supported through MITEI have been in renewable energy, energy efficiency, carbon management, and enabling tools such as biotechnology, nanotechnology and advanced modeling.”
“His background, coupled with his long history of constructive engagement with, and at, the Energy Department, will serve the American people well,” said Frances Beinecke, the president of the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council, in a public statement. “We look forward to working with him to advance a clean energy future based on efficiency and renewable power.”
Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, also released a public statement about Moniz’s nomination.
“As a theoretical physicist from MIT and a member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, Dr. Moniz will help ensure that the nation’s energy decisions are based on sound science,” Krupp said. “He has shown that he understands the complexities of the nation’s energy challenges, as well as the connections among the energy choices we make, the health of our communities and environment, and the opportunities for growth and jobs from clean energy innovation.”
The response to Moniz’s nomination has not been entirely positive, however. Food and Water Watch, a Washington, D.C.-based NGO and consumer rights group, reported in early March that the group Americans Against Fracking was circulating a petition in advance of the official announcement about Moniz’s appointment.
“As director of MIT’s Energy Initiative, whose founding members include Shell, Saudi Aramco, ENI and BP Technology Ventures, Inc., Moniz has been a vocal proponent of natural gas obtained through the dangerous and controversial method of hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking,'” the press release read. “The rumored appointment of Moniz to Secretary of Energy comes on the heels of President Obama’s State of the Union address, in which he pledged to address the increasing threat of climate change. But extracting, transporting and burning natural gas all contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions and worsen global climate change.”
According to an MIT press release, Moniz’s research has focused mainly around theoretical nuclear physics, energy technology, and policy studies. The release also included testimony from MIT faculty in support of Moniz.
“Professor Moniz is well prepared to take on this critically important role,” said Susan Hockfield, former president of MIT. “When I called for the establishment of MITEI, I knew that it would require superb leadership. Professor Moniz has provided it, and he has shown a remarkable ability to discern how best to bring groundbreaking research to bear on both immediate and longer-term energy problems. He has brought together industry, government, and the academy to address the global challenge of sustainable energy.”
Moniz was contacted but was unavailable for interview.