WASHINGTON -- President Obama is expected Monday to name Massachusetts Institute of Technology nuclear physicist Ernest J. Moniz to lead the Energy Department, and the Environmental Protection Agency's clean-air chief, Gina McCarthy, to run that agency, according to a White House official.
The nomination of McCarthy, 58, is likely to draw fire from congressional Republicans who, over the last four years, have attacked the EPA's new regulations to cut air pollution, including emissions of greenhouse gases, as job-killing government overreach.
Obama's choice of McCarthy also would signal that he is poised to make good on the more aggressive rhetoric he has used lately about the urgency of addressing climate change, environmentalists said.
From 1997 until January 2001, Moniz worked in the Clinton administration as undersecretary of the Department of Energy. Before that, he was associate director for science in the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the White House.
At the Energy Department, he oversaw the science and energy programs and served as a special negotiator with Russia over the “nuclear materials disposition program,” according to MIT’s website.
At MIT, Moniz is the director of the Energy Initiative, which pursues research into both fossil fuels and renewables. Because some of the world's biggest oil-and-gas companies fund the Energy Initiative, some environmentalists have voiced skepticism about Moniz’s commitment to combating climate change. They have also questioned whether Moniz’s enthusiasm for natural gas as a cleaner option to coal would prevent him backing research into renewable energy to cut greenhouse gas emissions further.
But in public talks, Moniz has taken a balanced view of natural gas, similar to that expressed by Obama. Moniz has highlighted natural gas development as a “game-changer” that creates jobs and emits less carbon dioxide than coal. But he has not shied away from spotlighting the environmental risks that widespread natural gas development poses, including possible water and air pollution.