American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program


Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Hearing on the Department of Energy FY99 Budget

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing on the Department of Energy (DOE) Fiscal Year 1999 (FY99) budget on March 4, 1998. Secretary of Energy Federico Pena was the sole witness and gave a brief testimony on the budget request before responding to many questions by the committee. His full written testimony is available from the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources website. A brief summary of the DOE bud get request is available from the AGI website.

Opening Statements
In his opening statements, Committee Chair Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) noted that the DOE budget for FY99 is $1.5 billion more than FY98, even though DOE had pledged to reduce its budget by $14 billion over 5 years. He wanted to learn more about climate ch ange, and thinks the Kyoto Protocol is flawed due to the omission of developing countries. He criticized the Administration for its "Carter-era strategies" such as solar roofs and cars, and for its omission of proven technologies, such as hydro and nuclea r power in addressing carbon dioxide reductions. He noted that the budget includes funding for extending the life of nuclear power plants, but does not address the issue of nuclear waste disposal. He concluded by stating that we need address electric res tructuring and climate change separately.

Ranking Member Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.) stated that DOE plays a central role in defense, science and energy, but still is more of a defense agency than energy agency. He congratulated DOE for achieving cleanups at half the predicted costs, and cited a PCAST report that energy efficiency has saved over $170 billion. He expressed his concern over the $1 billion request for the Spallation Neutron Source Center, and his belief that DOE has not made a convincing case for it.

Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho) voiced his support for the DOE labs in his state. He believes the Administration will implement the Kyoto protocol even without Senate approval, but Congress will be resistant to these efforts until the Senate is presented w ith the treaty to ratify. He continued, "I am certainly willing to vote for science programs ... to understand climate change but am not willing to send the country down a billion dollar road."

Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.) stated his interest in nuclear waste, and his belief that DOE should take the lead on this issue. He also believes DOE should take a position on electricity deregulation. Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) stated his support for renewab le energy funding increases, especially for ethanol and biodiesel fuels.

Senator Rod Grams (R-Minn.) characterized DOE as a "$20 billion black hole," which he has tried to abolish several times. He criticized DOE for not taking more action on nuclear waste, and expressed his desire to "eliminate DOE's bloated bureaucracy."

Question and Answer
Senator Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) began the question and answer period by noting the current low gas prices and high import rate. He asked if DOE has partnered with the Department of the Interior (DOI) to determine US oil and gas supplies. Pena responded t hat we must address the increasing oil imports, and the DOE Strategic Plan includes a goal of stabilizing US production. He agreed that DOE and DOI should discuss lands and availability.

Senator Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) emphasized the need to use solar and renewable energy. Pena responded that DOE has been working on the electricity deregulation issue for 1.5 years and has reached a position. DOE's position, however, conflicts with the Ad ministration's proposal, so DOE is working with an interagency group to reach consensus.

Senator Thomas questioned the ability of DOE to reach its goal of reducing spending by $14 billion over years, of which FY99 is the 4th year. Pena responded that DOE has reduced its force by 25 percent since 1996 and is a year ahead of meeting those targets. DOE has greatly reduced its operating costs, but have increased its investment in science and technology.

Senator Bumpers asked if DOE would recommend a veto of a stand-alone PUHCA bill, to which Pena responded yes. Bumpers' questioned DOE's 17 percent increase in its stockpile stewardship budget. Pena responded that DOE must annual certify that the US nucle ar supply is safe, secure, and reliable. As the weapons get older and experienced people retire, DOE will need additional capabilities to simulate underground explosions with supercomputers.

Sen. Murkowski asked about progress on the Yucca Mountain site. Pena anticipates that the viability assessment will be completed by December. Murkowski asked if once the viability assessment is complete if DOE would support a temporary repository. Pena re sponded that DOE is committed to long-term disposal.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) spoke about the importance of forests in reducing carbon dioxide and questioned why forests were ignored in the Administration's strategy. Pena explained that $8 million was allocated for carbon sequestration programs, such as forests. Wyden also expressed his concern about contamination at the Hanford site. Pena replied that DOE must find a way to prevent additional contamination, and noted that 117 or the 149 tanks have been pumped.

Sources: Hearing testimony


Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at govt@agiweb.org.

Prepared by Kasey Shewey, AGI Government Affairs
Posted April 2, 1998


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