Abraham Defends Budget Request for Energy Programs

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Publication date: 
5 July 2001

"Science and technology can help us increase [energy] supply in an environmentally responsible manner. They can help us boost efficiency and so cut energy demand. And together science and technology can help us solve the very serious problems we have in this country posed by our aging energy infrastructure. I am truly looking forward to working with the Committee on realizing the great potential science holds for helping us address America's energy challenges." - Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham

Testifying before members of the House Science Committee, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham stressed the important role that DOE science would play in addressing the nation's energy challenges.

" The Department of Energy is particularly well situated to make a serious contribution to finding solutions to the energy supply challenges we are going to face over the next twenty years. The Department is the single largest funder of basic research in the physical sciences and manages major programs in basic energy science, high energy and nuclear physics, fusion energy sciences, environmental research, and advanced scientific computing research. In different ways, each of these areas will play a role in providing greater energy security for the American people."

Yet repeatedly, committee members grilled Abraham on why the Administration's FY 2002 budget request made substantial reductions to research in areas such as energy efficiency and renewable sources.

" I have made no secret of my reservations about the Administration's energy plan," said Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) at the June 21 hearing. He later added, " sometimes the deeds don't match the words. When you talk about the areas of conservation, investment in renewables, and greater energy efficiency, I would like to see some meaningful deeds." Many other members expressed similar concerns, as did Ranking Democrat Ralph Hall (D-TX), "about contradictions between the policy and the budget."

Abraham explained that, in the short time the Administration had to put together a budget submission this spring, he had looked to President Bush's campaign platform and statements for policy guidance. For areas not mentioned in the campaign, he initiated strategic reviews of current programs before requesting significant funding. In answer to Bart Gordon's (D-TN) question of " why not just ask the President," Abraham explained that Bush had asked the agencies to produce policy recommendations for him. Interim results of the review of energy efficiency and renewable energy programs will be available by mid-July, he said, and may lead to amendments to the FY 2002 request; a final report in September would provide guidance for the FY 2003 request and beyond.

Mike Honda (D-CA) noted that no presidential science advisor had been in place to provide input to the National Energy Policy; Abraham responded that the Cabinet members involved had all drawn on the expertise of the scientists and engineers in their agencies.

Commenting that Bush recently called for more research on global climate change, Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said, " if we study it until all the questions are answered without taking any actions...we are in danger of ending up with a very well-studied disaster." In addition to calling for more research, the Administration has also launched an initiative to support R&D on technologies to prevent and capture greenhouse gas emissions as well as clean coal and nuclear technologies, Abraham replied.

" I don't want the President to look dumb," said Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), but " I want you to explain to me how cutting the energy budget when facing a potential energy crisis isn't dumb?" Citing statistics that the U.S. has only a small amount of untapped oil reserves, he posed the question: " If we could find and pump that measly two percent we have tomorrow, what do we do the day after tomorrow?" The Administration's energy plan encourages diversifying sources domestically and internationally, Abraham said, including seeking supply sources from non-OPEC nations.

Felix Grucci (R-NY) complained that the budget for DOE's Office of Science has remained flat for a number of years. Abraham agreed that DOE's science programs do not receive sufficient attention. When he served in the Senate, Abraham said, he was active in working for a doubling of the NIH budget, but now he wondered whether, " by focusing on only one of the three major science components of the federal science complex," the effort may have " affected a lot of budget decision-making" for NSF and DOE. He said a " commensurate effort" was needed to focus attention on the mission and needs of NSF and DOE. " Absent that," he thought it was harder to make the case for " the kind of plus-ups seen at NIH."

In general, Abraham indicated that DOE and the Administration are supportive of R&D in areas including energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable and alternative sources, but he did not feel it appropriate to continue funding existing programs without waiting for the results of the review to assess their priorities and direction.

Boehlert pledged that the committee's upcoming bill to authorize many DOE programs would recommend " significant funding for research, development and demonstration across the full range of energy sources" as well as conservation. The bill, he promised, " will reflect a balance that I fear is sorely lacking in the Administration's own proposals."

An earlier hearing by Bartlett's Energy Subcommittee reviewed other legislation put forth to support and promote hydrogen and nuclear energy programs. One bill would reauthorize the Hydrogen Future Act of 1996, recommending $400 million over the period FY 2002-2006 for R&D and demonstration projects. H.R. 1679, the Electricity Supply Assurance Act of 2001, would, among other things, authorize nuclear energy research programs within DOE and would elevate the Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology, and the Office of Science, to Assistant Secretary levels. H.R. 2126, the DOE University Nuclear Science and Engineering act, would provide support for university nuclear reactors, faculty professional development in nuclear science and engineering, incentives for students to enter the field, and research funds. None of these bills has been marked up yet.