Summary of Energy Hearings: July 2001
- Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, July 18, 2001: Hearing to receive testimony on legislative proposals related to energy and scientific research, development, technology deployment, education and training
- Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, July 12, 2001: Hearing to Receive Testimony on Provisions to Protect Energy Supply and Security, and Other Energy Policy Issues
- House Resources Committee, July 11, 2001: Hearing on H.R. 2436, the Energy Security Act
On July 18th, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the research and development (R&D) provisions of energy-related bills introduced by both Republicans and Democrats. There was general agreement that increasing the nation's understanding of energy science and technology will play a key role in meeting future energy demands. Chairman JeffBingaman (D-NM) emphasized the importance of these programs by stating that "our domestic energy security and our future economic prosperity depend on our ability to use R&D to increase the efficiency of our energy use, while at the same time producing the energy we need more cleanly and economically." The witnesses testified on R&D provisions in several Senate bills (S.388, S.597, S.90, S.193, S.242, S.259, S.472,S.636, S.1130, and S.1166) and the Department of Energy's (DOE) role in increasing R&D programs.
The Honorable Francis Blake, Deputy Secretary of Energy for the U.S. Department of Energy, clearly stated the importance of a strong federal R&D program to maintain and improve the energy supply. He emphasized that "federal leadership in partnership with others can have a strong and beneficial influence on the advancement of technical solutions to many of the Nation's greatest challenges. . . and to ensure that the Department's scientific and research portfolio is both well focused on our nation's needs and efficiently managed." Blake further discussed the provisions of the proposed legislation and outlined the administration's stance on each bill.
The witnesses included: Dr. John Holdren, Professor, Harvard University; Dr. Ernest J. Moniz, Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Dr. Robert C. Richardson, Vice-Provost, Research, Cornell University; Dr. H.B. Hubbard, Independent Consultant, retired President and CEO of The Pacific Center for High Technology Research, retired Director of Solar Energy Research Institute; Dr. Mike Corradini, Professor, University of Wisconsin; and Robert Fri, Director, Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.
The witnesses expressed overwhelming support for R&D energy programs as a vital part of maintaining our energy-dependent economy. They also voiced concern over the declining amounts of federal funding for R&D programs in the last few years. As a member of the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) (1997) energy study, Holdren explained that the results showed the importance of R&D programs for efficiency, fossil fuel, nuclear and renewable energy technology. He commented that funding for these federal programs have been overlooked and the amount appropriated for them have decreased significantly. In developing comprehensive energy policy legislation, such as S.579, federal R&D programs must be a cornerstone. Hubbard addressed the progress of federal R&D programs to develop renewable energy technologies and stressed renewable energy sources as another key player in developing a strong long-term energy strategy.
Corradini expressed support of legislation to provide funds to improve and expand nuclear science and engineering education. He provided recommendations for increasing interest, improving university programs, and developing more interaction with DOE research at the university level.
Finally, Fri reviewed the National Research Council (NRC) study on the benefits of DOE R&D on energy efficiency and fossil energy. The report outlines the results of R&D programs over the last two decades and emphasizes the importance of evaluating these programs to maximize their future benefits in fulfilling our energy demands.
The panel consisted of: Dr. Tom Cochran, Senior Scientist and Nuclear Program Director, NRDC; Jacques Bouchard, French Atomic Energy Commission; and Dr. Greg Choppin, Department of Chemistry, Florida State University.
The discussions of the third panel focused on R&D programs and proposed legislation concerning nuclear fuel reprocessing. Cochran expressed concerns with spending on nuclear reprocessing because of its hazardous potential. He feels that "research on advanced fuel cycle technologies should be limited to paper studies until there is clear evidence that the new technology is cheaper, [and] inherently safe." Bouchard expressed views that if nuclear energy is going play a larger role in fulfilling the energy demands then we must be capable of safely managing the nuclear material and spent waste. He sees burying it in a geological repository or reusing through a reprocessing-recyling process as the two options available for dealing with commercial spent fuel. Choppin outlined the development, advantages (technological, economical, and environmental), and disadvantages of non-aqueous nuclear systems versus solvent systems.
The Bottom Line
On July 12, 2001, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee continued its series of hearings to gather information on the national energy policy. The hearing had a broad list of purposes but its main goals were to receive testimony on protecting energy supply and security, drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), drilling in the outer continental shelf (OCS), and increasing nuclear power. The hearing began with a brief business meeting in which several Department of the Interior (DOI) appointees were approved, then the committee proceeded with the energy business. Two of the main pieces of legislation discussed were Chairman Jeff Bingaman's (D-NM) version (S. 597) and Ranking Member Frank Murkowski's (R-AK) version (S. 388) of a comprehensive energy bill. Speaking at the hearing were the Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, and Deputy Secretary of the Department of Energy Francis Blake as well as representatives from energy corporations and environmental groups.
Bingaman and Murkowski both gave opening remarks at the beginning of the hearing expressing their views on energy policy. Murkowski underscored the reality of the energy crisis by stating that domestic production has not kept up with the demands of the last decade. He also was critical of America's "extreme radical environmental community," stating that it was a profit industry that uses fear tactics to wield power and influence--ignoring sound science. Many environmentalists have been critical of versions of the energy policy that rely heavily on increasing domestic supply of oil and gas by building more power plants and increasing drilling on public lands.
The first panel spoke on behalf of the President's energy plan. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton recounted the strengths of the administration's energy plan. In response to decreased levels of production relative to demand, one of the major proposals in the plan that is similar to Murkowski's version, is increasing reliance on federal and Native American lands for domestic supply. This includes opening ANWR to drilling. In response to concerns about the environmental impact on the area, Norton stated that technology has advanced since the opening of Prudhoe Bay, another oil field in Alaska, that would minimize environmental damage to the reserve. She also stated that stringent environmental standards would be applied to the site to ensure this level of environmental protection.
In his testimony, Blake emphasized the gap between production and consumption that will only continue to grow in the coming decades. Among the measures he listed to accomplish closing the gap in the President's energy plan were achieving greater conservation through new technology, balancing power generation with more efficient production methods, and increasing research and development on renewables. Blake encouragingly reported that there were over 30 measures in the National Energy Policy report that were also contained in both Bingaman and Murkowski's comprehensive energy bills.
After the witnesses of the first panel had finished speaking, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) posed the important question to the administration representatives of what goals for the future were incorporated into their energy policy. Norton and Blake were unaware of any specific goals in the policy, but Norton stated that they were trying to move in the short and long term with a mix of different approaches. Dorgan responded that he felt it was crucial for whatever policy is finally enacted to have goals in mind for US energy in the coming years. Sens. Bob Graham (D-FL) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA) used the question period to ask Blake and Norton about OCS drilling. Graham was strongly opposed to the recent sale announcement, reflecting Floridian's concerns about their coastlines, while Landrieu was disappointed that DOI reduced the size of the sale area. In contrast to Florida, Louisiana and Alabama have been supportive of OCS drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico. Murkowski characterized Florida's opposition to Lease Sale 181as "NIMBY" syndrome: Not In My BackYard. Landrieu did criticize President Bush, however, for touting alternative energy solutions to the public, while at the same time slashing the budget in that area.
The witnesses of the second panel represented a variety of interests. The first witness on the panel was former Chairman of the Energy and National Resources Committee Bennett Johnston, who now heads Johnston and Associates, LLC. Johnston essentially gave advice to Bingaman and Murkowski on how best to approach forming a comprehensive policy. Among the suggestions he made were reauthorizing the Price-Anderson Act that deals with nuclear energy, increasing Corporate Automobile Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, particularly for light trucks and SUVs; and dissolving the national delusion that renewables are the only answer--stating that they cannot stand alone economically. The next witness, Mr. Bill Burton, partner at Jones Day law firm, advocated increased oil and natural gas production and diversification of supply, as long as it was not at the expense of clean-burning and abundant natural gas.
The next testimony was an environmental perspective from Mr. Chuck Clusen, senior policy analyst for the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Clusen's testimony focused on ANWR, the opening of which the NRDC strongly opposes. He stated that oil and gas development in the refuge area was fundamentally incompatible with the purpose of ANWR and would destroy its wilderness character. One of the criteria Clusen listed for the NRDC's opposition to the drilling was that the US has already done an inadequate job of monitoring drilling on the North Slope of Alaska, and that ANWR has served as a distraction from more important issues rather than a solution. Clusen's answer to the supply/demand imbalance was reduction of demand rather than increase in production. The NRDC recently published a report entitled A Responsible Energy Policy for the 21st Century that outlines its ideal for a national energy policy.
The next witness, Mr. Jerry Hood, Special Assistant to the General President for Energy of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, expressed his strong disagreement with Clusen's statements. Hood characterized ANWR as the largest find of domestic oil in the last 30 years, and added that it was the answer to reducing foreign dependence on oil. He agreed with the administration's approach of an energy plan based on responsibly increasing domestic production coupled with conservation and efficiency measures.
The last witness on the second panel, Tom Young, Vice President of Business Development for Mariner Energy, Inc., came out in support of drilling in ANWR, stating that it was a disturbing move to lock-up new domestic sources of oil and gas. Young also characterized the shrinking of the eligible drilling area in Lease Sale 181 as driven by politics, not important supply needs. He also stated that the chosen area was logistically off-limits to smaller independent companies because of depth and distance from infrastructure.
Two of the three witnesses on the third panel were representatives of the nuclear energy industry. Marvin Fertel, Senior Vice President of Business Operations at the Nuclear Energy Institute; and Ashok Thadani, Director of the Office of Research for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), both spoke in favor of nuclear energy and its benefits in solving the energy problem in America. Fertel spoke of nuclear power plants' safety, efficiency, and reliability as the best in the world, stating that nuclear energy was essential to America's energy future. Speaking for the NRC, Thadani stated that the commission's purpose was to ensure the safe application of nuclear technology. He specifically addressed the requirements of the commission included in S. 472, which include a report to Congress on the state of nuclear power generation in the US and establishment of a research program to deal with liscencing issues. The last speaker at the hearing was Anna Aurilio, Legislative Director for US Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG). Aurilio addressed her testimony to nuclear energy issues, focusing on the nuclear energy subsidy provisions contained in S. 472. She stated that "nuclear power is unsafe, unreliable, uneconomic, and generated long-lived radioactive waste for which there is no safe solution." PIRG opposes further subsidies to the nuclear industry.
Full text of written testimony can be found at the Senate Energy and Natural Resources website under "Previous Hearings".
The Bottom Line
Chairman James Hansen (R-UT) held a House Resources Committee hearing to discuss his recently introduced energy legislation, H.R. 2436. Known as the Energy Security Act, the bill is designed to "implement several parts of the President's energy policy agenda." Among other things, H.R. 2436 calls for royalty relief incentives for deepwater leases in the Gulf of Mexico and oil and gas production in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Testifying before the committee were representatives of the federal and state agencies as well as various public-interest groups. The Bush administration and industry strongly support the Hansen bill. Environmental groups are strenuously opposed to the legislation.
Testifying for this hearing were Gale Norton, Secretary of the Interior; J. Bennett Johnston, Johnston and Associates; Roger Herrera, Arctic Power; Richard Glenn, Arctic Slope Regional Corporation; Jerry Hood, International Brotherhood of Teamsters; Adam Michael Kolton, Alaska Wilderness League; and Linda Lance, Wilderness Society. The witnesses' complete written testimony is available online.
Secretary Norton, representing the administration, supported H.R. 2436, but does have a few concerns with the legislation. These include "the potential cost of extending the Deepwater Royalty Relief Act provisions for two years." Also, the bill would take the Interior Department's authority to transfer royalty in kind oil without compensation to the Department of Energy for the filling of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. During Q&A, Norton stressed the administration's desire to have stringent oversight standards for any gas and oil production on ANWR or other federal lands.
Witnesses from Arctic Power and the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, voiced their support for the Hansen bill. Both organizations claim that drilling in ANWR can provide economic self-determination in an environmentally responsible manner. They also view the exploration and development of ANWR as being an important domestic asset for the nation's ongoing energy crisis. In written testimony, Roger Herrera of Arctic Power, states, "the bill is the product of many decades of experience, . . . , knowledge and practical know how of arctic operations and ways of protecting the arctic environment." A top priority for the pro-development groups is to ensure that local and state governments are consulted when regulations are being formulated.
Title V of the Hansen Bill, which permits drilling in ANWR, was strongly opposed by witnesses from the Alaska Wilderness League and the Wilderness Society. Both groups believe "that achievement of our energy goals without appropriate protection of the natural environment does the nation permanent, irreversible damage." Other areas of concern in the bill are Title 1, Section 102 that requires the Secretary of the Interior to inventory all federal public lands with regard to potential energy resources, and Titles II and III that require the suspension of royalties for certain sales in the Outer Continental Shelf and require the administration to study "impediments to efficient oil and gas leasing."
Contributed by Summer 2001 AGI/AIPG Geoscience Policy Interns Michelle Williams, Caetie Ofiesh, and Chris Eisinger.
Posted November 12, 2001
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