Republicans See Obama Favoritism for Efficiency & Renewable Energy

By Published On: January 22, 2010

Lawmakers pressed secretary of energy Steven Chu January 21 for faster disbursement of funds to speed both a revival of nuclear power plant construction and job creation during a U.S. Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee hearing. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) complained that Department of Energy reporting requirements for states and localities in charge of spending federal economic stimulus money earmarked for efficiency have become increasingly strict, slowing the process of building retrofits and forcing states to hire more staff just to handle paperwork. In response, Chu traced the reporting requirements back to the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act itself, noting that it told the department to “spend quickly, but spend wisely.” He agreed to look for ways to streamline DOE requirements. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) urged Chu and the Obama Administration to propose more federal spending on efficiency, since it offers the most immediate way to cut greenhouse gas emissions and create jobs. Chu was lukewarm, calling the prospect unlikely unless limited federal seed money could successfully leverage heavy private investment in energy efficiency. “If you pay for everything, you’ll get some good things done,” he said. “But we can’t continue this.” Republicans pressed Chu to remove roadblocks for new nuclear plants. “If we’re going to have a greener America, nuclear power has to be at the top of the list,” said Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY). “I don’t disagree with you,” replied Chu. Republicans urged the department to fund research and development of the full panoply of nuclear technologies, including small, modular reactors. They also called on Chu to quickly appoint a long expected “blue ribbon” panel to make recommendations on how to handle mounting waste produced by the nation’s nuclear power plants on a long-term basis. Chu deflected the criticism. He pledged to appoint the panel “soon” and said the department would fund nuclear power research and development, as well as make good on loan guarantees for new plants that Congress authorized in 2005 energy legislation. But he characterized decision making on nuclear power as “complicated,” saying his chief aim is to maintain scientific integrity as new policies are developed. The secretary also highlighted ways the department is working to dramatically increase U.S. research and development in the energy field. He cited the formation of new energy innovation hubs to bring together teams of scientists to help commercialize promising technologies. The hubs are opening this year. He also discussed new Energy Frontier Research Centers being formed to work on basic science related to energy, plus the department’s new Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. So-called ARPA-E is backing what Chu called “potentially transformative technologies that are too risky for industry to fund.” He said these efforts are crucial to the nation’s long-term prosperity.

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