Hearing Update: Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Holds Confirmation Hearing for Department of Energy Secretary

Lewis-Burke Associates LLC – January 19, 2017

On January 19, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a confirmation hearing for President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination for Secretary of Energy, former Texas Governor Rick Perry.  Although the three-hour hearing concluded without a scheduled vote, it is expected that the Committee will report a favorable recommendation to the full Senate in the next few weeks.

At the confirmation hearing, Governor Perry highlighted five priorities if confirmed as Secretary of Energy: (1) nuclear security and in particular modernizing the nuclear stockpile, (2) electric grid modernization and protecting it against cyber security attacks, (3) research and development investments in all energy technologies, including renewables, in an all-of-the-above energy strategy, (4) basic research at universities and national laboratories, “even when it will not yield benefits for a generation,” and (5) environmental cleanup of sites contaminated from nuclear weapons production and nuclear energy research.  In addition, he committed to visiting the 17 DOE national labs to learn about their unique missions and is most interested in learning how to accelerate and improve the commercialization of energy technologies.

Governor Perry also directly addressed two issues of immediate concern to Committee Members.  The first involved his recommendation during his 2012 presidential run to eliminate DOE.  At the hearing, he told the Committee Members that he regretted that recommendation, his views on DOE have changed significantly since being briefed on the roles and responsibilities of the Department, and he is now “excited and passionate about advancing the core missions of the DOE.”

The other issue involved climate change.  Governor Perry acknowledged that climate change is real and some of it is caused by man-made activity.  According to Governor Perry, the most important issue is not whether the U.S. should take actions to mitigate climate change, but the extent to which those actions impact economic growth, jobs, and energy prices.  In response to further questioning by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Al Franken (D-MN), Governor Perry agreed that assessing the costs and benefits of energy technologies and their impact on economic growth also should include environmental impacts, such as air quality, and the effects of climate change, such as sea-level rise and more frequent droughts.  He also committed to support climate change research under the Office of Science and it was not his intent to cut research funded primarily by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research.

Other issues that were address during the hearing include:

  • DOE funding. In response to concerns raised by Senators Maria Cantwell, Mazie Hirono, Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) about recent reports that the Trump transition team is considering cutting DOE’s budget by 10 percent, specifically targeting nuclear physics and high performance computing, and eliminating DOE’s offices focused on fossil energy, grid, renewable energy, and energy efficiency measures, Governor Perry stated that he would not support that recommendation and would advocate against those types of cuts.
  • Universities and national laboratories to advance innovation and energy technologies.  Several times during his testimony and in response to Members’ questions, Governor Perry highlighted the importance of university research in discovery science and applied energy technologies to help spur economic growth and maintain U.S. leadership.  He also supports the network of DOE national laboratories and investing in world-leading science infrastructure.  In response to Senator Stabenow’s question on supporting the construction of the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) funded by the Office of Science, Governor Perry said that FRIB is an example of the types of projects he supports.
  • Exascale and high performance computing.  Governor Perry stated that one of his highest priorities was investing in exascale computing to maintain U.S. leadership in high performance computing and stay ahead of Chinese capabilities.  He also affirmed the importance of increasing high performance computing capabilities to address cybersecurity challenges and accelerate scientific discovery.
  • Carbon capture, storage and utilization.  In response to questions from Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Steve Daines (R-MT), Governor Perry affirmed his support for carbon capture, storage, and utilization research and development projects and DOE loan guarantees for these high-risk but potentially high reward projects.
  • Grid modernization. In response to questions from Senators Maria Cantwell, James Risch (R-ID, and Angus King (I-ME), Governor Perry stated that one of his highest priorities was to ensure the reliability of the electric grid, understand the impact of integrating renewables and energy storage technologies, and addressing cybersecurity threats.
  • Yucca Mountain. In response to questions from Senator Cortez Masto (D-NV), Governor Perry would not commit to the permanent shutdown of the Yucca Mountain geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel from power reactors.  However, he committed to working with Nevada and other states on a consent-based siting process and trying to find a solution that has alluded past Administrations.

Sources and Additional Information:

The full confirmation hearing is available at http://www.energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2017/1/nomination-hearing-of-the-honorable-rick-perry-for-secretary-of-energy


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