Give Ernie Moniz a Break on Policy Pronouncements

By Kennedy Maize

Washington, D.C., March 27, 2013 – Poor Ernie Moniz. The MIT academician and energy policy wonk — President Obama’s choice to be the next Secretary of Energy (there’s a career black spot for you) — is facing an onslaught from folks who think that trying to be an honest broker about energy is disqualifying, politically incorrect.

Ernie Moniz

Because he hasn’t hewed to a green line that eschews the Keystone XL pipeline project, nuclear power, and fracking for natural gas, and has actually taken money for telling people his views on these and other issues, some believe he is untrustworthy to be in Obama’s cabinet. Now, if he had carried signs against the XL project, argued that fracking amounted to poisoning water worldwide, and said nuclear power would turn our children and grandchildren into cancer-ridden corpses, he’d be acceptable.

But if Moniz had taken that second set of opinions – even if he believed that the science directed him to those views – he’d be anathema to another group of whack jobs (from the right). He be tainted by green paint.

So Moniz gets hammered for organizing inquiries that called them as they saw them. That’s sad.

Moniz has honestly put his views on the table over the years, regardless of where they might fall on the political spectrum of blue to red. that makes him fair game for all wingnuts, regardless of which direction their threads turn. The guy can’t catch a break. That’s an indictment not of Moniz but of the current political environment and a political process that values personal attacks over substance.

Let’s get this clear. I don’t know whether Ernie Moniz will be a good secretary of energy. I’d be very surprised if that turned out to be the case, as I have yet to come across one of those administrative unicorns. Nor do I have any idea whether he will be a bad secretary of energy, a more likely outcome. But he is clearly as qualified as anyone else who has ever held the job, and certainly more qualified on paper, whatever that’s worth, than many of his predecessors. Federico Pena couldn’t carry his slide rule.

But I also don’t give a damn about his work in the past – including his largely useful work at MIT producing a series of studies on energy issues that are at least as valuable as any of the myriad of predecessors from interests left, right, center, and from the moon. I don’t care that folks who drill for gas or fission atoms or perform analyses for them paid him, or that folks who erect windmills and make solar panels didn’t (or did).

Moniz is the president’s tool; Moniz’s policy views are not central to the president’s positions. Moniz won’t make policy (and let’s hope nobody does, as not making policy seems to be working very well). He won’t whisper seductive notions about how to destroy the world with fossil fuels into the ear of a complaisant chief executive. He most likely won’t even be allowed to hire the folks who will advise him every day and carry out the administration’s policies in his name.

Like every predecessor, Moniz at best will be a marginal influence on the direction of the White House. More likely, he will be irrelevant. In any case, he’s Obama’s choice and not that of the myriad interest groups who somehow hope to influence administration policy through his upcoming confirmation hearing.

Moniz has done good work at MIT, organizing useful and mostly intellectually honest inquiries into a variety of energy issues over the years. As a journalist with a lot of experience in these issues, I’ve found the work worthwhile. It may actually have some impact in the future.

But Moniz should not be held accountable for anything those projects produced. Nor should be he held accountable for determining that direction of the administration is on energy and environmental issues. That will not come from DOE. The president makes the policy and he’s entitled to the cabinet officers he wants. Honest past views should not constitute disqualification because they don’t comport with the views of interest groups. That applies to Democratic and Republican administrations alike.