Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz Brings His Climate Change Message to Fenway Park

He's throwing out the first pitch tonight.

AP Photo

AP Photo

Some of the key players on climate change policy in the Obama administration come from Boston, and two of them—Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy—return to throw out the ceremonial first pitch tonight at Fenway Park, to celebrate Earth Day.

At his Brookline home this morning, Moniz showed me the No. 23 Luis Tiant jersey he plans to wear for the event; he would not disclose whether he intends to mimic Tiant’s famous delivery. “Tune in tonight!” he said.

Moniz, who has taught at MIT since 1973, is a legit Red Sox diehard—he watched the clinching Game 6 of last year’s world series at the American Embassy in Japan, and says he immediately affixed a Sox pin to his Japanese counterpart’s lapel.

He and Jamaica Plain native McCarthy are also serious about battling climate change, and Moniz argues that the President is as well. Although unable to get legislation through Congress, he says, Obama has accomplished a great deal on his own, including last year’s Climate Action Plan. “We’re going to use every authority we already have to advance this advance this and pick up the pace.” That includes EPA regulations, energy-efficiency standards, and development of new technologies.

But as the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported earlier this month, the slow response to the crisis is already ensuring that the world will face a major battle to mitigate the damage, even as it strives to reduce carbon emissions to keep that damage from being even worse. Here in Massachusetts, awareness is growing of the danger from increasing storm events and rising sea levels. “The Back Bay was once underwater, and could be again,” Moniz notes.

The state has another important stake in the issue: Massachusetts hopes to be a major site for development and manufacturing of new technologies, including solar, wind turbines, and others. That economic payoff from the projected trillion-dollar-a-year market could be slipping away, as the U.S. falls behind China and Europe in investing in those technologies and markets.

Asked if we have missed the window for reaping those benefits, Moniz says “I don’t think so, but that’s a very important consideration.” He points out that his department and the Department of Defense are establishing innovation hubs as part of a broader Obama initiative.

Part of the problem, he notes, is that the revolution in the natural gas industry has made domestic investment in that segment so attractive. Natural gas is better than coal for climate change, but not nearly as good as the clean energy technologies getting pushed to the sidelines.

That includes an old clean technology: nuclear. With upcoming plant closings, including Vermont Yankee, the United States will drop below 100 operating nuclear power plants. Although many on the left are wary of reliance on nuclear power—especially since the Fukushima Daiichi disaster—Moniz says that it must be part of the equation. “We can’t afford to use anything less than all of our options for zero carbon,” he says.

That might include next-generation smaller, modular reactors currently under development, he says.

Moniz has other nuclear issues on his plate: securing nuclear materials around the world, particularly from former Soviet facilities. That process has resulted, over the part 20 years, in the conversion of some 500 tons of Russian nuclear-weapons material into fuel for nuclear plants. Moniz worked extensively on that program during his previous stint at the Energy Department, under Bill Clinton, and considers them high-priority today.

The ongoing Ukraine crisis, and resulting fallout in U.S.-Russia relations, has imperiled those efforts. “Obviously it’s not business as usual,” Moniz says. Scheduled trips to Russia have been “postponed until we have a better working relationship, shall we say.” But he says that certain selective interactions are continuing, particularly concerning the risk of nuclear terrorism.

None of which, naturally, is as important as throwing the first pitch at Fenway. The department has released video of Moniz practicing, but tune in tonight to see how he and McCarthy do under pressure.