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Energy Secretary Moniz: Climate Action Must be Swift and Aggressive

May 17, 2014

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Paraphrasing a famous line from the 1967 film, The Graduate, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz told a Middlebury audience that he could describe the future in two words: “clean energy.” Moniz spoke before a full house at Wilson Hall in McCullough Student Center on Friday, May 16, as part of a sustainable energy panel featuring Vermont Senators Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy, Congressman Peter Welch, Gov. Peter Shumlin, and five Vermont sustainable energy leaders.

Moniz, who was touring some of Vermont's energy innovation hubs, opened his 20-minute talk by thanking Middlebury for its contributions to energy sustainability, but also for its contribution of alumna Ercia De Vos ’95, who serves as deputy chief of staff at the Department of Energy.

Striking an urgent, yet hopeful, tone, the former MIT physics and engineering professor told the crowd of students, staff, and community members, that the DOE is focused on implementing President Obama’s climate action plan, which was issued in June of 2013. He noted that in addition to efforts to mitigate climate change, the administration is working on ways to adapt to changes that have already taken place.

Moniz said the administration’s recently released Third National Climate Assessment Report may help shift the public’s attention to the urgency of climate change due to its focus on devastating regional impacts. He noted the alarming acceleration of climate change already underway: “I remind you, that assessment report, which is only a week old, is already pre west-Antarctic ice sheet melting and the additional 10 feet of sea level rise that is anticipated just from that event,” he said. “Super Storm Sandy could be looking like child’s play if we do not really move forward aggressively.” 

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Secretary Moniz speaks at McCullough Student Center.
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Audience member RJ Adler asks the panel to discuss the balance of investing in natural gas versus renewable energies.
Video of the Energy Summit at McCullough Student Center.

One of the ways the DOE can make a direct impact, he said, is through stricter efficiency standards for appliances like walk-in coolers and electric motors. People don’t always realize the significant impact of such standards, Moniz said, but the 40 or so standards that will accumulate during the Obama administration will avoid three gigatons of carbon dioxide and half a trillion dollars in energy costs over the next 15 years.

The DOE also takes the lead in technology development and research, Moniz said, with a particular emphasis on cost reduction to drive economic growth in the U.S. and in emerging economies. “We all know there is no solution without a collective global solution and cost reduction is absolutely essential if we are going to bring along that major part of the world’s population.”

Vermont’s congressional delegation and Gov. Shumlin gave similar refrains in their remarks, recognizing the stark dangers of climate change and the opportunities for economic growth through a transformation to clean energy. Shumlin said that Vermont had created 11,000 jobs in the past three years and that more than 1,000 of those were in the solar sector, making Vermont the national leader, per capita, in solar sector jobs.

Five panelists with ties to Vermont sustainable energy initiatives offered different perspectives on projects taking place around the state. Middlebury’s director of sustainability integration Jack Byrne, Green Mountain Power CEO Mary Powell, Vermont Energy Investment Corporation’s Scott Johnstone, University of Vermont professor and researcher Paul Hines, and community energy volunteer and natural resources expert Jamison Ervin each gave 5-minute overviews of their work.

Sen. Sanders, who organized the energy secretary’s visit to Vermont, said he thinks Vermont, with its progressive approach and numerous achievements, has a key role to play in leading a global transformation to clean energy. “We know, given the enormity of the problem, given the fact that the scientific community is telling us, that the window of opportunity is narrowing,” said Sanders. “I believe that this small state can lead the nation and that the United States can lead the world.”

By Stephen Diehl, Photos by Paul Dahm