Top Energy, EPA officials share uncommon bond

Energy secretary Ernie Moniz (center) and EPA leader Gina McCarthy (left) joined an Earth Day celebration at the New England Aquarium.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
Energy secretary Ernie Moniz (center) and EPA leader Gina McCarthy (left) joined an Earth Day celebration at the New England Aquarium.

Fresh off a plane Tuesday, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy made a quick stop at Dunkin’ Donuts for a taste of home before directing her security detail to the New England Aquarium to meet up with fellow Massachusetts native, US Energy Secretary Ernie Moniz.

The pair would spend the day here to mark Earth Day, echoing each other’s opinions, whether professing their love of the Red Sox or discussing federal policies and programs.

Energy and environmental policies have always been connected, but the unusual joint tour of the nation’s energy czar and top environmental official shows how entwined these issues have become, driven closer as concerns over climate change grow and US production of oil and natural gas booms. The burning of these fossil fuels produce greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, which are blamed for accelerating climate change.


How environmental and energy issues interact in Washington, state houses, and corporate boardrooms will not only affect policies, but also the economy, shaping the future of industries such as automobiles, natural gas and oil, and clean technology. And with both state and federal governments moving toward stricter regulation of greenhouse gases, the EPA and Energy Department will need to work more closely, environmental and energy advocates say.

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Christopher Knittel, a professor of energy economics at MIT, said energy and environmental policies were once conducted at more of a distance, as activists and regulators focused on cleaning rivers, hazardous waste sites, and toxic emissions spewed by factories. But now that focus has shifted to climate change.

“Greenhouse gas emissions are pollutants in the eyes of the EPA, and considering how almost all greenhouse gas emissions come from energy sources, that means the two agencies are going to be tied together that much more,” Knittel said. “They almost certainly have to be on the same page in terms of their vision.”

Moniz, an MIT physicist and founding director of the MIT Energy Initiative, and McCarthy, a former state environmental official under four Massachusetts governors, were appointed by President Obama at the same time, in March 2013.

They were charged with carrying out both the president’s climate change initiatives, as well as his “all of the above” energy policy that relies on a variety of sources, including nuclear, oil, coal, and natural gas.


Since then, they say, they have built strong personal and working relationships — both of which were on display during their swing through Boston.

As they chatted with young environmental advocates, schmoozed with local business leaders, met with reporters, and psyched themselves up to throw the first pitches at Fenway Park, the pair were often side-by-side, finishing each other’s sentences.

Appearing separately on morning television talk shows, their messages were the same. “Earth Day brings us back to a focus on the risks of climate change and what we can do about it,” Moniz told the hosts of MSNBC’s Daily Rundown.

On the set of another MSNBC program, Morning Joe, McCarthy said: “As we’re celebrating the 44th anniversary of Earth Day, we want to keep our eyes on the big prize right now and that big prize is climate change and taking action to do something about it.”

While the agencies share similar goals, Moniz said in an interview with the Globe, they have different tools for achieving them. For example, in less than two months EPA is expected to propose rules that would require existing power plants to cut carbon dioxide emissions.


The Energy Department, meanwhile, is funding the development and testing of technologies to capture and store carbon dioxide produced by power plants before it is released into the atmosphere.

Appearing separately on morning television talk shows, their messages were the same.

Another example: McCarthy’s agency is crafting regulations, due next year,that would require manufacturers of heavy duty vehicles to improve fuel economy. The Energy Department is funding the development of so-called SuperTrucks that would meet the standards through design changes to improve aerodynamics, reduce truck weight, and lessen the rolling resistance of tires, or by adding fuel saving technologies, such as a system that recovers heat from the engine to help power the vehicle.

“We have complementary roles,” Moniz said. “As Gina sets the standards, we invest in the technologies to get there.”

Moniz and McCarthy met a few years ago at MIT, where they discussed environmental issues, but it has only been in Washington that their connection has become a friendship. They occasionally meet for dinner or drinks, and sometimes visit each other at home.

They said their Massachusetts backgrounds helped spur their interest in energy and environment.

Moniz is from Fall River, where he was taken with physics in high school, which led him to a bachelor’s degree, summa cum laude, from Boston College and a Ph.D from Stanford University. He spent about a decade building MIT’s energy program.

McCarthy grew up in Canton. She said she remembers swimming as a young girl in rivers turned shades of blue and yellow by the chemicals from nearby factories.

“It was very pretty,” she quipped Tuesday. “It would be a very big fine today.”

Gilbert Metcalf, a Tufts University economics professor, said energy and environmental policies are at a critical juncture, and the rapport between Moniz and McCarthy could be critical to addressing climate change and other issues.

“We’re now in a world where we’re making regulations kind of with our fingers crossed behind our backs that we’re going to get new technologies online fast enough and cheap enough that it won’t be too costly to make the shift,” Metcalf said. “The coalition building that Moniz and McCarthy can do is very valuable.”

Senator Edward J. Markey said it is no surprise that two Massachusetts natives lead the nation’s top energy and environmental agencies.

Massachusetts has often taken the lead on energy and environmental issues, including joining a multistate coalition to cut carbon emissions at power plants, setting aggressive goals to reduce greenhouse gases, and implementing incentives to spur the use of clean energy technologies.

“The energy world is a Massachusetts world,” Markey said.

Erin Ailworth can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ailworth.