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Fiscal Year 2007 Appropriations Hearings (4-14-06)

  • April 5, 2006: House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, hearing on "DOE Energy Supply and Conservation, Fossil Energy"
  • March 2, 2006: House Science Committee, hearing on "NASA's Science Mission Directorate: Impacts of the Fiscal Year 2007 Budget Proposal"

House Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development
Hearing on "DOE Energy Supply and Conservation, Fossil Energy"
April 5, 2006

Witnesses:
David K. Garman, Undersecretary of Energy, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)
Kevin Kolevar, Director of the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability
Alexander Karsner, Assistant Secretary of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
Dennis Spurgeon, Assistant Secretary of Nuclear Energy
George Rudins, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Clean Coal

On April 5, 2006, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development held a hearing to discuss the proposed fiscal year (FY) 2007 budget for energy supply, energy conservation, and fossil energy programs at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Nearly every subcommittee member attended the three-hour hearing, peppering DOE officials with questions about coal, the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, and the proposed Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP). "The budget request for FY 2007 appears very aggressive for renewables," said Subcommittee Chair David Hobson (R-OH), adding that the increase has come at the expense of other DOE programs. "I don't think that's going to hold," he said.

Undersecretary of Energy David Garman stressed that the DOE budget had been crafted to reflect the priorities of the President's American Competitiveness Initiative and Advanced Energy Initiative. "This is a budget that begins to put the 'energy' back in the Department of Energy," Garman said, adding that a key focus of the budget is to "strengthen connections between basic and applied" energy research.

Appropriators remained skeptical about the budgetary priorities in the DOE request. Ranking Member Pete Visclosky (D-IN) and Representative Dennis Rehberg (R-MT) questioned the logic of a twelve percent cut in the Clean Coal Power Initiative. Garman justified the reduction by pointing out that clean coal plants have been very successful in the market. He added DOE is emphasizing diversifying the country's primary energy sources rather than focusing on any one technology. Rehberg also expressed his displeasure at the elimination of funds for oil and gas research and development.

Members also touched on conservation and efficiency issues. Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) noted that the DOE budget placed little emphasis on conservation. "Conservation is fundamental and implicit if not explicit," Garman responded. "Energy efficiency is the most affordable and quickest energy resource we as a nation can tap." Nonetheless, Representative Ed Pastor (D-AZ) pointed out that the efficiency-increasing State Weatherization Assistance Program is slated for a 78 percent cut. Garman agreed that the program was "very dependable" and "low risk," but explained that the administration has chosen to invest in programs that are higher-risk but could carry a higher payoff.

Several representatives expressed significant interest in the progress of biofuels, including bio-diesel and cellulosic ethanol. In response to questioning from Representatives Tom Latham (R-IA) and Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), Garman told appropriators that the U.S. currently produces about four billion gallons of ethanol from corn each year, and that DOE is looking to cellulosic ethanol to raise that number to sixty billion gallons per year. To be competitive in the market, however, ethanol prices would have to decrease from current levels of roughly two dollars per gallon to around one dollar per gallon. Garman added that funding for cellulosic ethanol research and development increased by 65 percent in the President's FY 2007 request.

The hearing concluded with a heated discussion of GNEP and the Yucca Mountain project. Hobson grilled Garman and Assistant Secretary of Nuclear Energy Dennis Spurgeon about interim storage facilities for nuclear waste. He cited information that despite guidelines requiring all nuclear waste recycling sites to include interim storage facilities, DOE is considering awarding a recycling project to a site that refuses to store waste. Furthermore, GNEP lacks provisions for interim storage.

Hobson and Visclosky also criticized the administration's treatment of the Yucca Mountain project. Visclosky accused DOE of "legislating away" Yucca's problems without solving the nuclear waste issue. Hobson remained unconvinced by Garman's assertions that the administration is continuing to emphasize Yucca. He noted that the Yucca project has been flat-funded for the past five years, and that by the time Yucca opens there will already be enough nuclear waste to fill the repository. DOE has no plan to "open the other seven Yuccas that you need," he added. Hobson stressed that "the committee is united" in dealing with the issue of interim waste. "I would propose allowing interim storage in any state that wants to take it except Nevada," he said.

To read Undersecretary Garman's written testimony, click here.

-JAF

House Science Committee
Hearing on "NASA's Science Mission Directorate: Impacts of the Fiscal Year 2007 Budget Proposal"
March 2, 2006

Witnesses:
Dr. Mary Cleave, Associate Administrator, NASA Science Mission Directorate
Dr. Fran Bagenal, Decadal Survey for Sun-Earth Connections and Professor, University of Colorado
Dr. Wesley Huntress, Jr., Decadal Survey for Solar System Exploration and Director, Carnegie Institute of Washington Geophysical Laboratory
Dr. Berrien Moore III, Co-Chairman, Decadal Survey for Earth Sciences and Professor, University of New Hampshire
Dr. Joseph H. Taylor, Jr. NL., Co-Chairman, Decadal Survey for Astrophysics and Professor, Princeton University

The House Science Committee held a hearing on March 2, 2006 to discuss the administration's funding request for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Science Mission Directorate. Committee Chair Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) opened the hearing by calling funding for the directorate "the most controversial and problematic aspect of NASA's proposed fiscal 2007 budget." Committee leadership from both parties emphasized the importance of NASA's science programs, with Boehlert calling science "the most successful aspect of NASA, one that … helps make the U.S. a world leader." Ranking Member Bart Gordon (D-TN) added that "NASA's science programs have amply demonstrated the wisdom of the nation's investment in them" and that the administration's proposed cuts "run directly counter to the spirit and intent of the President's own American Competitiveness Initiative."

Dr. Mary Cleave, Associate Administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate began her testimony with details of the agency's fiscal year (FY) 2007 budget request. The $5.33 billion science budget, which includes $1.53 billion for Earth science programs, is an increase of 1.5 percent over the FY 2006 allocation. Cleave also touched on one of the most controversial aspects of the request: cuts to the directorate's research and analysis (R&A) funds. "The 15 percent reduction in R&A funding is directly related to… our desire to maintain a balance in the science and engineering workforces and an adequate number of missions to support them," Cleave stated. She added that the agency is willing to "work with the community to solicit their input on these programmatic issues."

The remaining witnesses represented the four decadal surveys conducted by the National Academies to determine the scientific priorities in NASA-funded fields. All four witnesses agreed that cutting R&A funding is a mistake. Dr. Joseph Taylor, Co-chair of the Decadal Survey for Astrophysics expressed disappointment that the request terminates funding for the nearly-completed Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), defers indefinitely the high-priority "Beyond Einstein" program, and drastically cuts funding to small, low-cost Explorer Missions. Taylor also noted that the cuts will primarily affect younger researchers, post-doctoral scholars, and graduate students, increasing the likelihood that young scientists will leave the field. "I believe that the field of astronomy can sustain itself through lean budgetary times if there is opportunity on the horizon, but this budget proposal… does not provide the positive view of the future that will keep members of the community engaged and attract bright young people to the field," Taylor said.

Dr. Fran Bagenal, a member of the Decadal Survey for Sun-Earth Connections echoed Taylor's concerns. She noted that it "doesn't make sense" to cut NASA's "smallest and most productive" missions. In particular, she voiced concerns that delays in the Explorer program will lead to a gap of at least 6 years without any launches. In the past, Explorer's launch rate was roughly one mission per year.

Dr. Wesley Huntress, a member of the Decadal Survey for Solar System Exploration, stated that cuts in the FY 2007 budget would defer the Europa Orbiter mission, a flagship mission that has the highest science priority in this decade. He also noted significant delays and cancellations in the Mars program. Huntress expressed disappointment that the "solar system exploration enterprise has been mortgaged" in order to fund human exploration. "Instead of drawing on the strengths of both [robots and humans], this budget pits one versus the other and undermines the Vision [for Space Exploration] rather than promoting it," Huntress said.

The final witness to testify was Dr. Berrien Moore, Co-chair of the Decadal Survey for Earth Sciences that will be released later this year. Moore emphasized the effects the budget reductions will have on the scientific community. "I am equally concerned about the impact of program delays on the morale of scientists within and outside of NASA and the health of the specialized workforce that is necessary to maintain core competencies," he said. "The prior deterioration of the NASA Earth Science program… has already had an adverse impact on our ability to attract scientists or engineers. This situation will only grow worse unless there are significant improvements to the FY '07 budget proposal."

Boehlert's questions for the panel focused on determining the appropriate balance of funds within the budget proposal. He asked the witnesses if, given the current proposed funding level, they would be willing to delay or scale-back their flagships missions in order to provide additional funds for R&A accounts and smaller missions. Taylor, Bagenal, and Huntress all responded that they would do so as long as the scientific community agreed. Moore called cuts to Earth science R&A "disastrous" but also noted that the flagship mission for the Earth sciences, the Global Precipitation Measurement, has already been delayed by two and a half years. He expressed the need to find another way to fund R&A activities, possibly by reassessing funding for the Landsat mission.

Representatives Ralph Hall (R-TX) and Al Green (D-TX) voiced concerns about the decision to eliminate SOFIA. Hall quoted SOFIA as being 90 percent complete and over-budget by $200-$300 million, which he compared to the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). JWST is funded in the FY 2007 budget despite being over-budget by roughly $1 billion while still in the formulation phase. Cleave explained that SOFIA is not necessarily being eliminated. Rather, the project is being reviewed in order to determine whether it will result in adequate science return. Taylor emphasized that SOFIA is still a science priority within the astrophysics community.

Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) asked witnesses whether funding NASA's science program is as important as funding the energy research necessary for the U.S. to achieve energy self-sufficiency. Bagenal noted that NASA technology has led to a number of energy spin-offs, particularly in terms of increased energy efficiency. Moore added that NASA scientists are more concerned with the allocation of funds within NASA, and in particular the diversion of money from NASA's science programs to the shuttle. Rohrabacher also questioned whether NASA's efforts to catalog near-Earth asteroids receive adequate funding in the budget proposal. Cleave stated that this is an ongoing program that is funded in the science and exploration directorates.

Boehlert asked each scientist to comment on the most significant science question that the scientific community won't be able to answer in a timely fashion if the FY 2007 budget request is implemented. Huntress responded that the budget would hinder progress in the planetary science community on determining whether "we're alone." In the field of astrophysics, Taylor described delays in the detection of gravitational waves and the exploration of "dark energy" in the universe. Bagenal noted that delays to Explorer will cause NASA to "continue losing innovative methods" used to study heliophysics. Moore described a more general trend, reiterating that NASA is "at a tipping point," and that if the science budget continues to decrease, undergraduate and graduate students are going to stop choosing careers in Earth and space sciences.

Gordon ended the hearing by calling it "the most depressing hearing I have sat through." He added that the committee is "going to have difficulty putting NASA back together."

To access the witness testimony, the opening remarks of majority Representatives Boehlert and Calvert, and an archived webcast of the hearing, click here.
To access the opening statements of minority Representatives Gordon and Udall, click here.

-JAF

Sources: Hearing testimony, Environment & Energy Daily.

Contributed by Jenny Fisher, 2006 AGI/AAPG Spring Semester Intern.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Last updated on April 14, 2006

 
 

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