Slew of committees to scrutinize Moniz’s spending, research plans

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, February 29, 2016

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz heads to Capitol Hill this week to defend the administration’s fiscal 2017 budget request, setting up potential tussles with Republicans over technology funding, renewables, coal and climate change.

Moniz will testify before the House Appropriations Committee, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power, and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Other senior officials will testify on the Department of Energy’s applied energy and science budgets before a House Appropriations subcommittee.

The president’s budget proposal is strongly tied to the administration’s broader climate change vision via Mission Innovation, a pledge announced at last year’s climate talks in Paris to double clean energy research funding over five years. Most of the proposed increase would occur at DOE.

DOE’s $32.5 billion request includes a 21 percent rise in clean energy research and development, including a large increase for programs like the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which supports cutting-edge technologies outside the reach of the private sector.

Other big winners under the proposal include sustainable transportation, renewable energy and energy efficiency programs, which would all receive at least a 27 percent increase over last year’s level.

The administration is hoping that key appropriators like Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) — a historical supporter of R&D — will help make some of the funding requests a reality.

Administration leaders have noted that many Republicans have supported funding increases for programs like ARPA-E in the past, including through recently passed amendments to the Senate’s energy reform bill.

Alexander, chairman of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, has said he supports big increases in energy research but wants to do so by cutting wind subsidies, an idea not popular with many Democrats.

“The final appropriations bill Congress passed last year is drastically different than the president’s budget, and the same will be true for this year,” Alexander said earlier this month.

Even so, last year’s omnibus incorporated many administration priorities, including record funding for DOE’s Office of Science, which oversees 10 of the 17 national laboratories and is the nation’s largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences (Greenwire, Dec. 16, 2015). The administration is proposing an additional 6 percent increase for the Office of Science for fiscal 2017.

At a February briefing, Moniz emphasized that the administration’s request satisfied discretionary caps and was “not above the line,” despite proposed increases for many R&D programs for efficiency, renewables and other clean energy programs.

Paul Bledsoe, a former Clinton White House energy and climate aide, added in a recent interview that the administration “could get a really big chunk of the doubling” in clean energy funding if it works with Republicans to find offsets and satisfy their priorities.

Key to that effort will be House Republicans, who often have been critical of cuts to DOE’s fossil energy budget, as well as proposed funding surges for DOE’s renewables and efficiency programs. Last year’s spending bill dropped funding from Obama’s request for renewable energy and efficiency by about $700 million.

After the release of the president’s budget, House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) called the overall proposal a “spending wish list that doesn’t reflect our real budgetary constraints.”

Another challenge for the administration’s long-term R&D plan is its push for $2.3 billion in new mandatory spending proposals at DOE that require authorizing legislation.

With ARPA-E, for example, the administration envisions a $59 million increase in discretionary funds above last year’s level along with $150 million in new mandatory funds for fiscal 2017.

Minus the proposed mandatory funding, the administration’s request would increase DOE’s budget by a modest 2 percent.

Reporter Hannah Hess contributed.

Schedule: The House Appropriations Committee hearing is Tuesday, March 1, at 9:30 a.m. in 2359 Rayburn.

Witness: Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

Schedule: The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power hearing is Wednesday, March 2, at 10 a.m. in 2123 Rayburn.

Witness: Energy Secretary Moniz.

Schedule: The House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the applied energy budget is Wednesday, March 2, at 10:30 a.m. in 2362-B Rayburn.

Witnesses: Franklin Orr, DOE undersecretary for science and energy; David Danielson, assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy; John Kotek, acting assistant secretary for nuclear energy; Christopher Smith, assistant secretary for fossil energy; and Patricia Hoffman, assistant secretary for electricity delivery and energy reliability.

Schedule: The House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on DOE’s science budget is Wednesday, March 2, at 2 p.m. in 2362-B Rayburn.

Witnesses: Orr and Cherry Murray, Office of Science director.

Schedule: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing is Thursday, March 3, at 10 a.m. in 366 Dirksen.

Witness: Energy Secretary Moniz.