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Exclusive: Obama considering MIT physicist Moniz for energy secretary - sources

By Roberta Rampton and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama is considering naming nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz, one of his science and energy advisers, as the next energy secretary, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Wednesday.

Moniz, who was undersecretary at the Energy Department during the Clinton administration, is a familiar figure on Capitol Hill, where he has often talked to lawmakers about how abundant supplies of U.S. natural gas will gradually replace coal as a source of electricity.

Moniz is director of MIT's Energy Initiative, a research group that gets funding from industry heavyweights including BP, Chevron, and Saudi Aramco for academic work on projects aimed at reducing climate-changing greenhouse gases.

He did not respond to an e-mail request for comment on Wednesday evening.

Obama gave a speech at MIT early in his first term where he praised the Energy Initiative's research and spoke about the urgent need to address climate change - a cause he has pledged to elevate again as a top priority for his second term.

Obama is in the process of reshaping his energy and environmental policy team.

Earlier on Wednesday he nominated Sally Jewell, chief executive of outdoor retailer REI, to be interior secretary, overseeing the national parks and vast U.S. energy reserves.

He is also expected to name a new leader of the Environmental Protection Agency. Sources told Reuters Gina McCarthy, a top official in charge of air quality at the EPA, is the leading candidate for the job.

Moniz is a member of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, a group that gives Obama recommendations on the role of science and innovation in the economy.

Moniz would replace Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who announced last week he plans to step down.

Chu had been criticized for ignoring the huge U.S. boom in oil and gas development as he focused on spurring renewable energy.

Moniz would bring scientific acumen to the job, but he also has worked closely with industry and promoted natural gas as a "bridge fuel" to lower carbon pollution while new innovative forms of energy are being developed.

In July 2011, Moniz told the Senate Energy committee that he believes the water and air pollution risks associated with hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" were "challenging but manageable" with appropriate regulation and oversight.

From his time in the Clinton administration, he has experience managing the department's oversight of a chain of national laboratories and the U.S. stockpile of nuclear weapons.

After Obama made good on a first-term campaign promise to shut down the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site in Nevada, he named Moniz to a "Blue Ribbon" panel that looked for a new approach for storing toxic nuclear waste.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Jeff Mason; Editing by Paul Simao and Lisa Shumaker)

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