Energy secretary: ‘We have turned a corner’ on climate change

WASHINGTON — The United States and Congress have moved beyond debating climate change to deciding what to do about it, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said Thursday.

“We have turned a corner on that issue,” Moniz said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank. “We are — including in our Congress — really past the issue of whether we need to respond.”

Moniz stressed that his observation was his personal opinion, and he acknowledged that there is not “uniform, 100 percent consensus” for the notion that the earth’s climate is changing and humans are contributing to it. But he insisted that the debate had now shifted to the best way to combat climate change.

Moniz’s assessment seemed to clash with a more dour outlook from former Vice President Al Gore later Thursday. Gore said climate change skeptics have made reasoned and deep discussions about the issue difficult to mount on Capitol Hill and in political circles.

Speaking before the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, Gore said that when climate change comes up on the campaign trail, “you have conversations with candidates that kind of pussyfoot around it.”

Climate change is one of several energy security risks Moniz said still face the United States four decades after the Arab oil embargo underscored the nation’s vulnerability to supply disruptions in the Middle East. Another major challenge is bolstering U.S. energy infrastructure so it is capable of weathering storms as well as cyberattacks and is better adapted to today’s vastly reshaped oil and gas landscape.

Pipeline network

Pipeline operators have already started changing the direction of some flows to move oil and gas from new drilling hotbeds in North Dakota, Pennsylvania and other states to consumers. The current network of pipelines, built long before today’s drilling boom, was largely aimed at moving supplies north and to the east — but new oil and gas production in those regions has changed the dynamic.

Moniz said the U.S. pipeline system is “not lined up” with the physical realities of production and demand today.

And while the United States already has made strides in reducing oil dependence — beginning with fuel economy standards for cars in 1975 — the country is still vulnerable to international price spikes, Moniz cautioned.

Soaring domestic oil and gas production doesn’t free the U.S. from a global crude market and the volatility that comes with it, Moniz said.

“A key political and policy objective has to be continuing reduction in our oil dependence,” Moniz said. “Even as we produce more oil, we still need to be focused on reducing our oil dependence.”