Senators Mull EPA, Energy Picks

WHEELING – The administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the secretary of the Department of Energy determine policies affecting coal-burning power plants, electric utility bills, and employment in the local coal industry.

Members of the U.S. Senate soon will consider President Barack Obama’s nominations of Gina McCarthy to lead the EPA, and Ernest Moniz as energy secretary.

Moniz, 68, is professor of physics and engineering systems at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is director of the MIT Energy Initiative and the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment.

McCarthy, 54, meanwhile, currently serves as EPA assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation.

She was involved with crafting proposed EPA regulations to limit sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from power plants that were rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I’m very much concerned about … the lady that they have there,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said of McCarthy. “I have quite a few questions to be asking her when she comes before us. You know, she’s been on the wrong end of policies they put out from the EPA, and I’m very much upset about that. So I think when she comes before our committee, I’ll ask these questions – and I’m interested in hearing what answers I will receive.”

Manchin noted McCarthy also was part of the policies deemed as “overreaching” by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Why (the EPA and the Obama administration) keep going down this road when they know they are not constitutional is beyond me,” Manchin said. “I’m just disappointed we don’t have a balance. Why aren’t they looking for somebody who (favors) having an energy policy, trying to use the best technology, and working with the states to find the best practices rather than working against us all the time?

“She has been on the end of the administration that has really worked against us. I have concerns, very serious concerns. Still, I think everyone is due a process that we all go through, and she should be afforded that process. … Right now, it doesn’t look good.”

Manchin is more optimistic about Ernest Moniz serving as secretary of energy.

“He doesn’t seem to be as objectionable, or have done the things she has done,” Manchin said. “He has been in favor of fossil, he supports fracking and fossil energy. There are things that show there might be some support there. I’m going to ask him some tough questions. He seems to me that he feels we need an ‘all-in’ energy policy – and that’s refreshing if he does.”

Sen. Rob. Portman, R-Ohio, said the nomination of McCarthy as EPA administrator “could have a positive impact” on the coal industry because current EPA policy “is unacceptable.”

“In 2008 … the president was talking about bankrupting the coal industry,” he said. ” It’s hard to look back over the next four years, and see that’s not partly what is happening.”

He added he doesn’t know Moniz, but has asked to meet with him.

“I am encouraged that he has an interest and background in nuclear energy,” Portman said. “That’s important to us in Ohio because of the enrichment facility in Piketon, which is the only U.S. owned (centrifuge) facility.”

He added is also pleased at Moniz’s stance supporting non-proliferation, or keeping other countries from developing nuclear weapons.

“Dr. Moniz has a great deal of experience as a physicist and former top energy official under President Clinton,” noted Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. “He has reiterated the need for an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy strategy.

“I’m hopeful that his support of research into carbon capture and storage for coal means that, if confirmed, Dr. Moniz will help us to advance new technologies to create a strong future for coal. He has also recognized the importance of natural gas which holds great promise for West Virginia’s economy.”

Rockefeller said McCarthy has a great deal of experience working on energy and environment issues for both Democrats and Republicans.

“As she’s considered for the post, it’s important to examine if she is willing to maintain our water quality, protect human health, and work together on real solutions to save and create jobs in our state, while also acting within the limits of the EPA’s authority,” he said.

Sen. Sherrod Brown looks forward to learning more about both nominees, and meeting with them, said his spokesman, Yianni Varonis.