But a clear sticking point remained in the new Energy secretary's first appearance at a Capitol Hill hearing yesterday.
Try as they might, a few Republicans couldn't get Moniz to budge from his view -- shared by nearly all climate scientists -- that emissions of carbon dioxide and related gases from human industrial activity are causing global warming and more extreme weather.
"First of all, the rise in CO2 emissions in the last half-century is clearly tracked to our global increased energy use," Moniz told Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power. "Secondly, I know how to count," Moniz added. "I can count how many CO2 molecules have gone out from fossil fuel combustion, and I know how many additional CO2 molecules are in the atmosphere."
McKinley was pressing Moniz on whether his views on climate science were based on "consensus," as the West Virginia Republican pointed to lists produced by climate skeptics purporting to show tens of thousands of scientists who disagree with the prevailing view.
"In terms of consensus, I think consensus has a place in politics," McKinley said. "But consensus doesn't have a place in science." Moniz offered to sit down with McKinley in the future to discuss the issue at length but clarified that "based on numbers, on data, and not on consensus."
Earlier in the hearing, Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas) opened his questioning with a rambling diatribe aimed at Rep. Henry Waxman's (D-Calif.) observation that climate change is caused by human activity. Hall argued that all climate change has done is "punish" taxpayers, presumably through federal spending on clean energy and regulations to limit pollutants. He also took a shot at the Sierra Club as an "enemy" of job seekers.
"I'm certainly not a fan of the Sierra Club -- I want that to go on the record," Hall said.
Moniz seemed puzzled by the exchange but defended the record of reduced greenhouse gas emissions and growing clean energy industries the United States has seen over the last few years, before Hall changed the subject. It wasn't just skeptical Republicans who wanted to talk about climate. Waxman used his entire question time to press Moniz to explain the link between human-caused CO2 and climate, and the need to address it quickly.
"It's indisputable that we are experiencing warming, and that the pattern of consequences that has long been expected, in fact, are appearing around us, unfortunately -- typically at the higher end of the predicted ranges," Moniz said, pointing to melting ice caps, intensified storms, droughts and wildfires.
Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Moniz, who comes to the Department of Energy from an illustrious career at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he welcomed the exchanges. "It's not frustrating at all. I think it's important to be clear, and I hope I was," Moniz said. "But I thought also with the members there was actually a dialogue ... and I thought it was interesting the dialogue hasn't ended. We're going to pick that up and defend it. So I found it encouraging."
While there may be some disagreement over the cause of climate change, Republicans were certainly willing to give Moniz higher marks than his predecessor, Steven Chu. "I think he's much better than Secretary Chu, myself," Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), the subcommittee chairman, told reporters after the hearing. "I think he's more knowledgeable. I think he has a more practical approach to the political arena over there. And I know we obviously will have differences ... but I think we'll be able to work with him very well." Whitfield said he did not expect the disagreement on climate science to detract from what he expected would be an otherwise productive relationship with Moniz.
At the same time, he downplayed the extent to which colleagues were dismissing the link between human activity and climate change to focus on disagreement over how much the government should focus on mitigating climate change. "I mean, climate change is what climate change is. All the scientific evidence is out there on both sides," Whitfield said. "It's not the issue of climate change the issue is how serious is climate change," he added. "There are some people like Mr. Waxman who genuinely believe that is the No. 1 issue facing mankind. And then there are a number of other scientists who say it's an issue, but the priority is different. So I think what we're talking about is the priority of this issue."