Journalism in the Public Interest

Drilling Deeper: The Wealth of Business Connections for Obama’s Energy Pick

MIT physicist Ernest Moniz is an academic who has also served on boards or advisory councils of large energy companies, including BP


MIT Energy Initiative Director Ernest Moniz (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

When President Obama nominated Ernest Moniz to be energy secretary earlier this month, he hailed the nuclear physicist as a “brilliant scientist” who, among his many talents, had effectively brought together “prominent thinkers and energy companies” in the continuing effort to figure out a safe and economically sound energy future for the country.

Indeed, Moniz’s collaborative work – best captured in the industry-backed research program he oversaw at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology – is well known. So, too, is his support for Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy – one that embraces, fossil fuels, nuclear, and renewable energy sources.

But beyond his job in academia, Moniz has also spent the last decade serving on a range of boards and advisory councils for energy industry heavyweights, including some that do business with the Department of Energy. That includes a six-year paid stint on BP’s Technology Advisory Council as well as similar positions at a uranium enrichment company and a pair of energy investment firms.

Such industry ties aren’t uncommon for cabinet nominees, and Obama specifically praised Moniz for understanding both environmental and economic issues.

Still, Moniz’s work for energy companies since he served in President Clinton’s Energy Department has irked some environmentalists.

“His connections to the fossil fuel and nuclear power industries threaten to undermine the focus we need to see on renewables and energy efficiency,” said Tyson Slocum, director of the energy program at the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen.

Slocum pointed out that Moniz, if confirmed, will set research and investment priorities, including at the department’s network of national laboratories.

The Energy Department hands out billions of dollars in contracts and loan guarantees as it pushes energy research and development and administers the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile and cleanup efforts. (On fracking, probably the highest-profile energy issue of the moment, the Environmental Protection Agency has jurisdiction.)

Reaction to Moniz’s nomination has been mixed among environmental groups, ranging from support (Natural Resources Defense Council) to concerned acceptance (Sierra Club) to outright opposition (Food and Water Watch).

What criticism there has been has focused on his support for nuclear power and for natural gas extracted through fracking as a “bridge fuel” to transition away from coal.

Here’s what we know about Moniz’s recent involvement with the energy industry:

  • He was on BP’s Technology Advisory Council between 2005 and 2011, a position for which he received a stipend, according to BP. Spokesman Matt Hartwig said the company does not disclose details of such payments. (A 2012 BP financial report disclosed that one council member received about $6,200.) The council “provides feedback and advice to BP’s executive management as to the company’s approach to research and technology,” according to the company. BP has also provided $50 million in funding to Moniz’s MIT Energy Initiative. Moniz talked about that relationship while delivering a warm introduction before a 2009 speech at MIT by BP’s then-CEO Tony Hayward.
  • From 2002 to 2004, Moniz sat on the strategic advisory council of USEC, a public company that provides enriched uranium to nuclear power plants. A company spokesman said Moniz was paid for his role on the nine-member council, but declined to say how much. USEC, which has been seeking a $2 billion loan guarantee from the Energy Department for a centrifuge plant in Ohio, has applauded Moniz’s nomination.
  • He's on the board of ICF International, a Fairfax, Virginia-based company which does energy and environmental consulting. It has received Energy Department contracts as part of what one executive called a “longstanding relationship with the Department of Energy.” As a board member, Moniz got $158,000 in cash and stock in 2011, according to the company’s most recent annual report.
  • He is on the strategic advisory council of NGP Energy Technology Partners, a private equity firm that invests in both alternative energy and fossil fuel companies. The Washington, D.C.-based firm declined to comment.
  • He is on the board of advisers of another private equity firm, the Angeleno Group,which says it provides “growth capital for next generation clean energy and natural resources companies.” The Los Angeles-based firm didn’t respond to requests for comment.    
  • He is a trustee of the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center (KAPSARC), a Saudi Aramco-backed nonprofit organization. The organization did not respond to requests for comment.
  • He was on the board of directors of the Electric Power Research Institute from 2007 to 2011, following a stint on the group’s advisory council that began in 2002. A nonprofit utility consortium, the organization does research for the industry with an annual budget of over $300 million. The group paid Moniz $8,000 between 2009 and 2011, according to its most recent tax returns.
  • Since 2006, Moniz has been on the board of General Electric’s “ecomagination” advisory board which advises the company on “critical environmental and business issues.” The company did not respond to inquiries about compensation.

A spokesperson for the MIT Energy Initiative said Moniz is not giving interviews, and the White House didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Moniz’s nomination has not encountered resistance from the Senate, where the Energy and Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on Moniz April 9.

As part of the nomination process, Moniz has to fill out a financial disclosure that will become public, along with an ethics agreement on how he will avoid any conflicts of interest.

If confirmed Moniz won’t be the first energy secretary who has been close to industry.

Steven Chu, the outgoing energy secretary, received scrutiny over his ties to BP. The company had chosen the lab Chu headed at the University of California, Berkeley, to lead a $500 million energy research project. BP’s chief scientist at the time of the grant, Steven Koonin, became Chu’s undersecretary for science.

When the Energy Department became involved in the government’s response to the 2010 Gulf oil spill, Koonin recused himself.  Critics who thought the administration was too soft on the company pointed to Chu’s ties to BP. But no evidence emerged that Chu had played any role going to bat for BP within the administration.

Egmont Oeurveture

March 20, 2013, 2:25 p.m.

“no evidence emerged that Chu had played any role going to bat for BP within the administration.”

Horse cookies.

The lack of PROSECUTION of BP says everything I need to know.


March 20, 2013, 2:49 p.m.

Maybe the way to characterize how he might have in fact gone to bat for BP would be to say that ... he did nothing.

Gordon Hilgers

March 20, 2013, 6:25 p.m.

Who else is losing faith in the government’s ability to resist pressure from the commercial sector?  Sure.  Multinationals got a jump on nation-states due to globalization, and nation-states have yet gotten around to coming together to impose worldwide rules for these scofflaws who continue to exploit the poor for profit and who are even coming close to cutting us all loose from commercial regulation altogether.  Face it.  Our government has gotten what it has needed from the commercial sector during the Cold War, but we’ve let the commercial sector grow too powerful and now is the time to show them who’s really boss. 

If the government doesn’t do this, the people will without the government’s help.  All those who are resisting total commercial takeover of society need is for it to get a little bit worse, and when nearly everyone falls out of his or her comfort zone, there are going to be pitchforks and torches and bodies hanging from lamp posts.

Give the guy the benefit of the doubt, for NOW, but watch him like a hawk, anyway…
Remember, Cheney had SECRET talks at the White House, shortly after his fisrt coronation…
Besides, look at his *HAIRCUT*...does he LOOK like an evil capitalo-fascist???...

Just like his appointment of a Monsanto lobbyist to head the FDA and a Monsanto stooge to head the Dept. of Ag., and every other appointment he has made thus far, this is just one more agent of Obama’s corporate overlords now heading yet another cabinet position.

Rethugs = Democraps NO DIFFERENCE!

“Liberals” howled when Bush did it but are totally silent and compliant now that Obama does it.

Everything inside the beltway is total institutionalized corruption. Our federal government has absolutely no legal legitimacy at this point.

This is the way of American government, keep in mind.  I don’t think they see it as corrupt, per se, but rather as finding experts to make policy decisions.

The banking industry is watched by bankers.  Food by food, drug by drug, energy by energy.

I’m surprised the ATF isn’t run by Smith and Wesson executives and the Marlboro Man.

It’s a stupid idea, but it’s an easy one to sell.  They know the people and their tricks, so if they’re more loyal to our country than their past (and future) employers, it’s obviously a good deal.

Of course, that’s not the case, but powerful people rarely let facts get in the way of a good theory.

Qualifications aside, the combination of that haircut and that grin is really quite something ...

@Andy, who said Qualifications aside, the combination of that haircut and that grin is really quite something ...

I think he was Johnny Depp’s understudy in Alice in Wonderland:

Wow, an Energy Secretary who know about the necessity of base-load power generation - how novel for a change.

@pyeatte:  I doubt that we’ve ever had an Energy Secretary that didn’t understand the need for primary power generation capacity equal to the normal, effectively constant demand.

I gather what you’re trying to say is we can expect Moniz to shove the United States backwards…back into reliance upon coal burners or nuclear power plants?  And to relegate alternative energy sources to…the back burner?

I guess my somewhat extensive comments to the author (Justin Elliott) prior to publication didn’t fit the narrative he was pushing.  I provided extensive information about Dr. Moniz’s service on a bi-partisan, non-profit board of directors that promoted market reforms for the electricity industry.  He received no compensation for his service and I NEVER perceived that he was shilling for industry.  He was a remarkable intellect and will WITHOUT A DOUBT be the best secretary of energy we have had, though admittedly that bar is set pretty low.  His personality is genuinely congenial and collegial not effete like Dr. Chu’s.  If anyone has the credentials, credibility, and personal skills to forge a sound energy policy it is Dr. Moniz.  If Elliot’s piece is commentary, I guess he is entitled to ignore contrary evidence.  If it is journalism, it is irresponsible to not have included facts inconsistent with his narrative.  I have worked as an academic, a government employee in energy (16 years), and run non-partisan think tanks.  I am very careful in how I raise money for my non-profit efforts for exactly the reasons evident in this article.  Do we really believe that someone of the caliber and credentials of Dr. Moniz will be an industry shill?  This is why so much of the American populace has soured on journalism.  This was NOT a fair story or representation of Dr. Moniz.

@Ken Malloy who wrote His personality is genuinely congenial and collegial not effete like Dr. Chu’s.


  1) (of a person) Affected, overrefined, and ineffectual: “effete trendies from art college”.
  2)  No longer capable of effective action.

exhausted - decadent

News for you to use:  Any man who describes another man as “effete” loses 50%+ of their credibility without having to utter a single additional snide slander.

RE: Critique of effete
Wow.  The definition precisely describes Dr. Chu.  Why do you have such a problem with the use of “effete?”  Do you think he has been effective?

I note that your original comment contained absolutely no supporting examples or evidence.  At the very least, resorting to a slander like “effete” - to an ad hominem - in lieu of hard substantiating evidence is an attempt to exclude the facts and sway public opinion with emotion.

Just on the off chance that you actually intended that the public interpret your usage of “effete” to indicate ineffectualness, some further reading for those who wish to make independent judgements:

Just on the off chance a reader is interested in discovering other places one might find the name “Ken Malloy”:

Is that really all your interested in.  Whether Dr. Chu was effete and ineffectual?  It was three words in my critique.  Can I assume you agree with the rest of my critique, then?  I am more than willing to debate Dr. Chu’s accomplishments but the topic of this posting is Dr. Moniz and whether he will be an industry shill.  I have offered direct testimony based on several years of observation.  Let’s debate that.

The article lists associations; the old saw “You are who your friends are.” became an “old saw” because of the relevant wisdom contained therein.

For example, the Heartland Institute is a suggestive association:

Now if you’re prepared to list examples of Dr. Chu’s “effeteness”, then I - and the reading public - are all…eyes.

Regarding the ad hominem attack re one speech I gave at Heartland, go ahead and Google me and you will find that I am not regarded as a skeptic (nor as a kool aid imbiber)  Rather my speech went to the depth of our need for an effective energy policy, an endeavor that has consumed 30 years of my life.  I have worked for DOE for 16 years and believe I deserve better than your snide attack.

I would find debating Dr. Moniz’s qualifications much more relevant.

BTW, I used my real name.  Would ibsteve2u be willing to do the same?

Ah, but your listing examples of Dr. Chu’s “effeteness” would provide the reader with a list of qualities/behavior traits/positions that Moniz can be expected to not have since you profess admiration for Moniz but barely concealed contempt for Dr. Chu.

re:  BTW, I used my real name.  Would ibsteve2u be willing to do the same?

I am using an alias, am I not?  Does that not answer your question before it is asked?

I would note that you’re evading by/while attempting to make your response personal.  Again.

Ibstee2u, you are obtuse.  Of course, I know you are using an alias.  That is my point.  Do you have the guts to tell us who you are so we can examine your credentials like you are inviting the world to examine mine. You started down the ad hominem road, I didn’t.

@Ken Malloy, who spake thusly:  Do you have the guts to tell us who you are so we can examine your credentials like you are inviting the world to examine mine. You started down the ad hominem road, I didn’t.

lollll…I started down the ad hominem road?  It was I who described Dr. Chu as “effete”?

I initiated the examination of your credentials?  I proffered “I have worked as an academic, a government employee in energy (16 years), and run non-partisan think tanks” as “proof” of my qualification to emit unsubstantiated slanders?

And now after calling Dr. Chu “effete” you attempt to imply that I lack “guts” very…rightie.

A useful exercise, all in all; to return to the old saw “You are who your friends are.”, l do believe that we now have an exemplar of the friends of Ernest Moniz…albeit most definitely not a fellow nuclear physicist.

The *WINNER* of this round is “ibsteve2u”...

“Ken Malloy” appears to be a *HEARTLAND Inst.” HACK, who runs a
NON-EXISTENT “institute”...associated with the
WORST Global Climate change DENIERS, and PROPAGANDISTS for the “New World Order”....
Pardon my hyperbole, Kenny-the-kid…or is it “Kenny-the-kidder”...???...
My brothers’ name is also “Steve”, and yes, “Bradford” IS my real name - google it for proof…

“effete”, and “girly-man”, are BOTH IRRELEVANT distractions typically used by BIG OIL SHILLS, such as “Ken Malloy”
*How much methane will release from perma-frost melting in the next few decades, KEN…???...What effects will THAT have, KEN…???...
I’m sorry you don’t love your MOTHER….
PS, THANK-YOU, “ibsteve2u”, for the active links to real sources of actual information…...
Wha chu got, kenny…???...nuttin…???...thot so…..

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