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McCarthy: Alex Brandon/Associated Press • Moniz: Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

Moderate warriors?

Science | Obama’s Cabinet picks on energy and environment have had nice things to say about natural gas

Issue: "Boy Scout dilemma," May 18, 2013

If environmentalists and members of the oil and gas industry can find a rare point of agreement, it’s this: The two people President Obama has selected to head the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy could have been better or worse.

Gina McCarthy, Obama’s pick for EPA chief, has been the agency’s top air pollution official for the past four years. Along with former administrator Lisa Jackson, McCarthy crafted air pollution rules that have proven costly for power plants and are effectively forcing the closure of old coal-fired facilities—part of an EPA war against “dirty” coal.

McCarthy is also a veteran in the war against carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas blamed for climate change. As an environmental official in Connecticut, she helped implement the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, an enforced cap-and-trade scheme among Northeastern states, the first of its kind in the nation. The EPA is preparing to issue new rules to limit carbon emission from power plants, and it could adopt a similar scheme, in which plants buy and sell emission credits.

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For all her apparent animosity toward coal and carbon, some energy insiders say McCarthy has kept an open ear to industry concerns. She’s perceived as a tough regulator, but one who may be willing to negotiate. In addition, she’s an advocate for natural gas, once calling it a “key to our clean energy future.”

Obama’s selection for head of the Energy Department, Ernest Moniz, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor, is also a natural gas advocate. Moniz worked in the Energy Department during the Clinton administration and has repeatedly called for expanded use of nuclear energy in the United States, even after the Fukushima disaster in Japan ignited worries about safety. Some environmentalists complain Moniz has too many industry ties (for example, he’s earned $306,000 since 2011 for serving on the board of ICF International, an energy consulting firm).

Moniz is no friend of big oil, though. He favors natural gas as a “bridge to a low-carbon future” that would include solar and wind power and carbon sequestration. And like McCarthy, he believes global warming is one of the world’s most urgent problems. In 2007 he wrote that the United States should pay foreign nations to reduce their carbon output: “The U.S. must be prepared to adopt serious carbon emission constraints, and … offer significant financial incentives to emerging economies to adopt carbon emission constraints.”

McCarthy and Moniz are awaiting confirmation from the Senate.

Integrity test

Hidsey/iStock

ProPublica, a watchdog organization, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration left around 100 pharmaceutical drugs on the market after learning they were based on fraudulent safety data. In 2010 the FDA discovered Cetero Research, a company that performed reliability testing on the drugs, had falsified its data. Although European regulators recalled some of the drugs, the FDA didn’t, and has refused to disclose the drugs’ names, citing confidentiality law.

One of the drugs, ProPublica learned, was generic ibuprofen (though its safety is no longer in question). The FDA asked drugmakers to submit new test results, and has received some, but as of April—six months past deadline—the agency admitted “a few have not yet submitted new studies.” —D.J.D.

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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