OVERNIGHT ENERGY: For energy chief Moniz, the honeymoon is not over

Reminded that Chu — who faced strong GOP attacks over Energy Department green-energy loan programs — also won unanimous Senate approval in 2009, Whitfield replied: “They didn’t know him, but they know Moniz, because he has been here before.”

Seeds of dispute? Moniz did butt heads a bit — albeit rather gently — with Republicans during his maiden appearance Thursday.

He wouldn’t offer a firm timeline for decisions on natural-gas export applications, despite prodding from several GOP lawmakers (more on that here).

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He declined to weigh in on the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline when asked by pro-Keystone lawmakers, noting it’s in the State Department’s hands.

He took some heat for decisions by a sister agency — the Interior Department — that many Republicans say have kept too many federal lands off limits to drilling.

He told a skeptical Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) that scientists are all but unanimous in agreement on the reality of human-induced global warming.

But pro-oil and pro-gas lawmakers could also find something to like in Moniz’s comments. Like this one about hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”: “All of the environmental issues that have arisen, I believe are manageable,” Moniz said.

Help on the way: Moniz is heading an agency that’s thin at the top these days.

A substantial number of senior positions are either vacant (like the Under Secretary of Energy and the Under Secretary for Science) or filled with officials on an acting basis (such as the fossil energy and environmental cleanup offices).

Moniz said after his House appearance Thursday that help is on the way — eventually.  

“There are many, many Senate-confirmed positions that are empty right now. We are moving across the board to put together a very good team,” Moniz told reporters, noting that some candidates are being vetted already. 

“This is obviously a very high priority for me.”

Moniz said he is hoping that formal White House nominations for senior positions will start to come later this summer. There are nearly 10 Senate-confirmed Energy Department positions that must be filled, Moniz said.

But he added that he’s already adding senior-level advisory staff that don’t need Senate approval, telling reporters of several hires in recent weeks. They include Melanie Kenderdine, a top official with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Energy Initiative that Moniz headed before becoming Energy secretary.

“Dan Poneman and I aren’t home alone,” Moniz told reporters after the hearing, referring to Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out these stories that ran on E2-Wire on Thursday ...

– DOJ, Arkansas sue Exxon for pipeline spill
– Senators from Sandy-hit states press Obama on climate rules
– Energy secretary creates cybersecurity council
– Safety, corporate interests at stake in toxics reform fight
– Senate environment panel to review carbon tax bill
– Energy secretary vows gas exports decisions this year

NEWS BITES:

Grijalva hits DeFazio in ‘Dear Colleague’ letter

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) argued to coworkers that seniority shouldn’t determine who leads Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee.

Grijalva circulated a “Dear Colleague” letter Thursday in which he slammed Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), whom Grijalva is trying to beat out for the committee’s ranking member slot.

“If length of service were the only factor that mattered to our Caucus, I would step aside today. But Rep. DeFazio has gone beyond respect for Caucus precedent to argue that I’m making an unjustified leap over other members,” he said.

DeFazio is the next most senior Democrat under current ranking member Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who is running to fill the Senate seat vacated by Secretary of State John Kerry.

DeFazio and Grijalva have been busy currying favor with their colleagues for the coveted post, which The Hill detailed here.

Boxer raises concerns after La. chemical plant explosion

A blast Thursday at a Louisiana chemical plant brought rumblings of possible oversight proceedings in Capitol Hill.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said she has “reached out” to the Chemical Safety Board, which regulates such facilities, about the incident.

“I intend to follow this situation closely and have asked for updates as they become available,” Boxer said in a statement.

The fire at the Geismar, La., building — owned by The Williams Companies Inc. — killed at least two people and injured 73 others.

A similar explosion occurred at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, in April, which killed 15 people.

That incident also brought concern from Boxer, who pledged to look into whether gaps in federal regulatory agencies allowed a dangerous amount of combustible material to go unnoticed at the facility.

Click here to read more about the Louisiana explosion.


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