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Energy, EPA appointees signal status quo for Obama green agenda

By Edward Felker, EnergyGuardian

Tuesday - 3/5/2013, 7:49am  ET

In fulfilling expectations that he would tap Gina McCarthy and Ernie Moniz to fill out his energy and environment team, President Barack Obama let it be known that he's seeking practicality over green purity.

Make no mistake, with McCarthy at the Environmental Protection Agency and Moniz heading the Energy Department, conservatives and the fossil fuel industry will still have plenty to grouse about. But both nominees have reputations for being pragmatic and talking straight with Congress. And that has most predicting a status quo for energy and environment policy.

ClearView Energy Partners Managing Director Kevin Book advised clients on Monday that the selections signal a plan to continue EPA's forward march on selected new rules, such as lower limits on sulfur in gasoline and national ozone standards.

It also shows that EPA is not going to rush ahead with regulations that are problematic politically and economically for Obama, including greenhouse gas limits on refineries, at least until after McCarthy is confirmed.

"What we've seen of McCarthy suggests she is a hands-on leader, but also a pragmatist when it comes to picking her fights," Book wrote.

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, the former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, put the status quo nature of McCarthy's nomination another way.  He said he wants her to stick to enforcing regulations already in place, "instead of pushing more extreme interpretations meant to placate the environmental lobby."

He added, "However, I would describe my past encounters with Ms. McCarthy as professional, but politely non-compliant so I’m not confident anything will change."

Moniz is less of a known quantity, having last been confirmed by the Senate in 1997 when he left the White House  Office of Science and Technology Policy to become Energy Department under secretary.

He was most recently on Obama's blue ribbon commission on the future of nuclear power and has also spoken in support of natural gas use as the way to cut carbon emissions in the short term over coal.

He has also expressed concerns about hydraulic fracturing, however, by saying gas development's risks are manageable  -- but not yet fully managed.

Moniz offers Obama a more politically astute energy secretary than Steven Chu, who never seemed to adapt to the policy battles that make up daily life in Washington.

Translated: Moniz may be someone who can steer the Energy Department through the liquefied natural gas exports review process and lobbying, and make the case for continued green energy research appropriations.

Obama passed over better-known Democrats to select two nominees who will stick to his good-for-the-environment, good-for-the-economy arguments. Republicans won't agree - but they will have to look past the moderate styles of McCarthy and Moniz to make their case.