The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today confirmed the nomination of Ernest Moniz to become the next secretary of Energy on a 21-1 vote.
The vote sends the nuclear physicist's nomination to the full floor and bodes well for his chances of being confirmed to lead the Department of Energy, where he would take over for outgoing Secretary Steven Chu. Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has said he hopes to have Moniz confirmed by the full Senate before the end of next week (E&ENews PM, April 16).
Before the vote, Wyden praised Moniz's previous work at DOE during the Clinton administration and his tenure at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he leads the MIT Energy Initiative. Wyden said Moniz would be well-positioned to continue DOE's efforts to ensure that hydraulic fracturing is done safely to exploit massive new natural gas reserves and to usher in an era of domestic resource abundance and reduced reliance on imported oil.
The nominee "could become the first secretary of Energy who instead of having to confront energy shortage and scarcity would oversee an era of abundant, carbon-reducing natural gas and the growth of renewable energy," Wyden said this morning.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) was the only dissenter in this morning's vote. During Moniz's confirmation hearing, Scott pressed the nominee on an issue important to his constituents, the fate of a DOE proposal to construct a facility to make mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel from surplus weapons-grade plutonium.
The MOX facility is proposed for the Savannah River Site near Aiken, S.C., but Scott was unable to get Moniz to explicitly commit to continuing the plans. Moniz said he agreed with the overall goal of dealing with the excess plutonium but said he would need to further study the details of the MOX facility after his confirmation.
"As his resume indicates, Dr. Moniz is a well-educated and experienced nominee. However, his lack of clarity on the future of the MOX program -- a project critical to South Carolina and to the safe disposal of 34 tons of weapons grade plutonium, in keeping with our international treaties -- led me to a 'no' vote today," Scott said in a statement today. "Clarity is something all too rare in Washington, and, as of today, Dr. Moniz's position on the future of the MOX program is murky at best. Given what is at stake, that is unacceptable."
Scott said he was considering placing a hold on Moniz's nomination to prevent a full Senate confirmation vote.
The Moniz vote came before an energy committee hearing on DOE's budget. Scott did not stay for the hearing.