House Appropriators and Authorizers Review FY 2013 DOE Request

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Publication date: 
7 March 2012

Energy  Secretary Steven Chu testified before two important panels in the last week:  the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee and the  House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.   As expected, most questions centered on energy prices and nuclear waste  disposal, and to a lesser degree, DOE’s science programs.

In  opening remarks at the February 28 appropriations hearing, subcommittee  chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) criticized the FY 2013 request for the  Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program (EERE) as being “painfully thin  on specifics” despite being one-third of the requested departmental  increase.  Frelinghuysen also criticized  the loan guarantee program, the Obama Administration’s moves to terminate the  Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, and the department’s emphasis on  renewable energy.  He offered praise for  the Administration’s actions regarding the National Nuclear Security  Administration (NNSA).  Frelinghuysen did  not discuss the department’s science programs.

Ranking  Member Peter Visclosky (D-IN) shared Frelinghuysen’s concerns about Yucca  Mountain, and expressed more pointed concern about the department’s  construction management practices.   Visclosky briefly mentioned the importance of DOE’s support of basic  research, and his desire that products based on initial discoveries financed by  U.S. taxpayers result in American jobs.

Also  attending this hearing were House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers  (R-KY) who faulted the DOE request for being unbalanced in its support of  various types of energy, the proposed increase for EERE, and for its political favoritism.  Committee Ranking Member Norm Dicks (D-WA) was  far more supportive of the DOE request, although he too was opposed to the  Administration’s actions on Yucca Mountain. 

These  topics dominated the 90-minute hearing.  There  was uniform agreement that more needs to be done to build and retain U.S. manufacturing.  Support was voiced for NNSA.  Doubts were expressed about an over-emphasis  on “green technologies,” rising gasoline prices, the Administration’s  commitment to fossil fuels and nuclear energy, and the disposal of nuclear  waste. 

Members  of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee discussed many of these  points when Chu testified before them on March 1.  Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) and  Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) both expressed dissatisfaction with  the request.  Members questioned Chu on  gasoline prices, Yucca Mountain, political favors, natural gas development, and  the Keystone Pipeline.

Of  note were several exchanges on science programs.  In answer to a question from Rep. Dana  Rohrabacher (R-CA), Chu said there was no FY 2013 DOE request to restart Pu-238  production for deep space probes.  DOE is  now working with NASA to develop a production strategy.  Rohrabacher hoped that the program “isn’t  lost in the shuffle.” 

Rep.  Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) is worried about significant cuts in the Los Alamos  National Laboratory’s budget and the impact on its workforce.  He also discussed a recent report by a  National Research Council committee  on the  management of the labs.  Chu spoke of the  excellent work performed at Los Alamos, praised its staff, and explained difficult  choices were required in the formulation of the budget.  Lujan said he would be working with Chu and Senator  Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) on the laboratory’s FY 2013 budget.

Chu  again discussed budgetary constraints when Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) expressed  concern about the budget request for the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven  National Laboratory that would reduce its operations by approximately 50  percent as compared to this year.  Again,  Chu praised the laboratory’s contributions, but did not offer any prediction on  its future budget.

Rep.  Randy Hultgren (R-IL) was far sharper in his criticism, calling the FY 2013  request an “anti-science” budget that would hurt long term U.S. competitiveness.  He charged that basic research funding would  be cut to support favored applied research and technology development programs.  Hultgren was particularly critical of a  proposed cut in Fermilab’s funding and the Administration’s action on the  Homestake Mine in South Dakota.

The  National Ignition Facility would have to be “mothballed” in FY 2013 Rep. Zoe  Lofgren (D-CA) declared because of the Administration’s request.  Chu disputed that would occur, saying “I know  of no plans . . . the funding is adequate for NIF to continue.” He looks  forward to achieving ignition at the facility.   Lofgren was not convinced, and pointing to a projected increase in U.S. funding  for ITER said she would, if necessary, lead a bipartisan effort to defund  it.     

Rep.  Judy Biggert (R-IL) asked Chu if the requested 2.4 percent increase for the  Office of Science, when compared to the much larger increases in the EERE and  ARPA-E budgets, reflected a lower priority for science.  Chu reassured Biggert that the Office of  Science remained a high priority.

A  release issued by Republicans on the Science Committee, while critical of many  aspects of the FY 2013 DOE request, concluded on a promising note that aptly  summarizes both hearings: “while there were considerable differences of  opinion represented today, one area of bipartisan agreement was support for  basic scientific research at the DOE Office of Science.”