Ernest Moniz, President Obama’s nominee to head the Dept. of Energy, has breezed through confirmation, winning Senate approval on May 16 by a 97-0 vote.

Moniz, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology physics professor and DOE undersecretary during the latter part of the Clinton administration, will succeed Steven Chu as DOE secretary.

Among the challenges Moniz will face at DOE are overseeing the long-running, multibillion-dollar cleanup effort at former nuclear-weapons facilities, such as the Hanford complex in Washington state.

Also on the agenda for Moniz, who was sworn in as DOE secretary on May 21, will be decisions on about 20 applications to export liquefied natural gas to countries that have no free-trade agreements (FTAs) with the U.S.

American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard urged Moniz “to quickly approve LNG export projects that will create American jobs and help lower our national debt.”

But Deb Nardone, director of the Sierra Club's "Beyond Natural Gas" campaign, called on Moniz “to complete a thorough economic and environmental assessment” of the LNG proposals. The Sierra Club is “confident the DOE will find that LNG exports are not in the best interest of the American public,” she added.

The day after Moniz was confirmed for the top DOE post, the department granted conditional approval for one such LNG export application from the Freeport LNG terminal, located on Quintana Island, Texas. DOE spokesman Bill Gibbons says 19 other applications are pending. He says the department does not have a timetable for issuing decisions on those applications but will review them "on a case-by-case, one-at-a-time basis."

In May 2011, DOE approved its first LNG non-FTA export application, for Cheniere Energy Inc.'s Sabine Pass facility, located in Cameron Pass, La.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said DOE's case-by-case approach on LNG applications "provides a constructive way for this discussion to go forward that's consistent with my belief that a measured approach on exports will provide the greatest advantage for the U.S. economy."

Wyden said he was pleased the department has assured him that "Dr. Moniz will be reviewing DOE's studies on the effects of exports once he is sworn in and that further export determinations will be informed by Dr. Moniz's analysis."