Wednesday, March 11, 2009

DOE Testimony On Budget; Climate; Coal; Nuclear Power; Yucca

Mar 11: Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Steven Chu testified before the Senate Budget Committee, Chaired by Senator Ken Conrad (D-ND), with Ranking Member Judd Gregg (R-NH), to discuss the President’s Fiscal Year 2010 Budget for DOE. Chu said, "The President’s Budget recognizes the enormous challenges and threats we face because of the ways we use energy. Today, we import roughly 60 percent of our oil, draining resources from our economy and leaving it vulnerable to supply disruptions. Much of that oil is controlled by regimes that do not share our values, weakening our security. Additionally, if we continue our current rates of greenhouse gas emissions, the consequences for our climate could be disastrous."

He said, ". . .we must decrease our dependence on oil, use energy in the most efficient ways possible, and lower our carbon emissions. Meeting these challenges will require both swift action in the near-term and a sustained commitment for the long-term to build a new economy, powered by clean, reliable, affordable, and secure energy."

He began with an overview of provisions contained within the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA, the "stimulus bill"). It includes $5 billion to weatherize the homes of low-income families; a $1,500 tax credit to help homeowners invest in efficiency upgrades; $4.5 billion to “green” federal buildings, including reducing their energy consumption; and $6.3 billion for state and local efficiency and renewable efforts. It also includes: $6 billion for loan guarantees and more than $13 billion in estimated tax credits and financial assistance instruments (grants and cooperative agreements) that may leverage tens of billions in private sector investment in clean energy and job creation. Additionally, it includes investments in key technologies, such as $2 billion in advanced battery manufacturing; $3.4 billion for fossil energy research and development in support of clean coal efforts; and $4.5 billion to modernize the electric grid.

He said the President’s Fiscal Year 2010 Budget "will continue this transformation to a clean energy economy, while returning to fiscal responsibility." The FY 2010 Budget provides $26.3 billion for the Department of Energy, with investments in basic science and in clean energy technologies, while securing and properly managing our nation’s nuclear materials. He indicated that the budget is coordinated with the ARRA and complements those investments. The line-by-line details of the FY 2010 budget are not final yet.

Chu highlighted the priorities within the FY 2010 Budget including: Investing in Science; Clean Energy Technology; Smart Electricity Infrastructure; Increased Nuclear Security; and a Cap-and-Trade System. On the controversial Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository he said, "the Budget begins to eliminate funding for Yucca Mountain as a repository for our nation’s nuclear waste. Both the President and I have made clear that Yucca Mountain is not a workable option and that we will begin a thoughtful dialogue on a better solution for our nuclear waste storage needs."

On the Cap-and-Trade system he said, "For the longer term, the President has pledged to work with Congress to design a cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Such legislation will place a market-based cap on carbon emissions and drive the production of more renewable energy in America. It will provide the framework for transforming our energy system to make our economy less carbon-intensive, and less dependent on oil."

In response to questions from Senator Conrad he said, "we have to develop clean coal technology" and carbon sequestration. Senator Gregg asked, "Is the Administration going to support licensing new nuclear power plants?" Chu responded that nuclear power must be part of the overall energy mix and he doesn't think that nuclear licensing should be put on hold. He said he would support more funding to encourage the nuclear power industry to grow. In response to a question -- Shouldn't we be drilling more aggressively for natural gas? He said developing more natural gas should be part of our overall energy plan.

In closing comments Senator Conrad commented on climate change and said, "I think it is very important for the administration to understand what I am hearing. You know, I reported yesterday some of what I had been hearing, and I know it discomforts some in the administration to hear that the budget as is, in my judgment, just as it has been written, probably can’t pass here. I say that because I have colleagues coming to me every day saying to me, 'If this is in, don’t count on my vote.'”

In a release on the hearing, Senator Gregg commented, "I’m also concerned about climate change and I think we should try to move away from carbon-based production of energy and that’s why I’ve been a strong supporter of nuclear power. And I’m genuinely concerned about this Administration’s approach to nuclear power. If you look at the recent stimulus bill that was passed, stripped from that bill was approximately $50 billion of potential loan guarantees, which would have helped us fund an expansion of nuclear power."

Access the complete testimony of Secretary Chu (
click here). Access charts used at the hearing (click here). Access a link to a flash player webcast of the hearing (click here, scroll down to "Wednesday, March 11"). Access the statement from Senator Conrad (click here). Access a release from Senator Gregg (click here). [*Energy]