HEARING OF THE SENATE ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE
SUBJECT: THE NOMINATION OF STEVEN CHU TO BE SECRETARY OF ENERGY
CHAIRED BY: SENATOR JEFF BINGAMAN (D-NM)
WITNESS: STEVEN CHU, SECRETARY OF ENERGY-DESIGNATE, DIRECTOR, LAWRENCE BERKELEY NATIONAL LABORATORY
SEN. BINGAMAN: Okay, why don't we get started?
The committee meets this morning to consider the nomination of Dr. Steven Chu to be the secretary of Energy. President-elect Obama will not officially nominate Dr. Chu until the new president is sworn in himself this next Tuesday. It's customary, however, for the Senate to confirm noncontroversial Cabinet nominations at the beginning of a new administration by unanimous consent without first referring them to committee. And it's customary to do so immediately following the inaugural ceremony.
We extended this courtesy to seven of President Bush's nominees eight years ago and to some of President Clinton's nominees 16 years ago. In keeping with the past practices here in the committee, I've scheduled today's hearing on Dr. Chu's nomination and scheduled another hearing on Thursday on Senator Salazar's nomination in order to give members an opportunity to ask questions of the nominees and consider the nominations prior to the inauguration.
Unless there's serious opposition to one or both of the nominees -- and I'm certainly not aware of any -- it's my hope that the committee might also be able to take a vote on the nominations later this week as well.
Dr. Chu's nomination comes at a pivotal time in the department's history. The department faces the daunting challenges of reducing our dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels, developing new sources of clean energy, finding ways to capture and store carbon emissions, modernizing our electric grid and developing more efficient energy technologies.
At the same time, the department must fulfill its traditional mission of maintaining our nuclear deterrent, cleaning up the environmental legacy of the Cold War and advancing the frontiers of scientific discovery and technological innovation.
We're very fortunate to have a nominee of Dr. Chu's high caliber to take on these responsibilities. He will bring to the job the keen scientific mind of a physicist and Nobel laureate, the experience and understanding, of the Department of Energy, of a national laboratory director and the insight and vision needed to forge an energy policy for the 21st century.
President-elect Obama has made an excellent choice in nominating Dr. Chu to be the secretary of Energy. I strongly support his nomination as I have said. I hope the committee will approve his nomination, later this week, and that the full Senate will confirm him for this position next Tuesday.
Let me call on Senator Murkowski to make any statements she would like to at this point.
SENATOR LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And Dr. Chu, welcome. Good morning and thank you for your willingness to serve in this capacity this morning.
I would just like to note, as we begin, when we think about the role that the Department of Energy plays and their mission to advance the nation's energy security, whether it's promoting scientific, technological innovation, ensure the environmental cleanup of the national nuclear weapons complex, the tasks that are before the Department of Energy are clearly not easy tasks.
The astronomer Carl Sagan once observed that we live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.
Now, that may be true of some people. It certainly is not the case with you, Dr. Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist. I think it's probably fair to say that you are uniquely poised in your ability to bring, with you, the back ground that relates the science and the technology.
As the director of the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Dr. Chu brings a distinguished record of scientific achievement to the position of Energy secretary.
Dr. Chu, I know that you are keenly aware of the magnitude of the position for which you're being considered. I commend you for agreeing to undertake the challenge. I appreciate the opportunity that we had, to discuss a few of the issues that you will be facing, when we met last week. And I look forward to your comments this morning, as you elaborate even further.
The senators that join this committee do so because of the importance of these issues, to their constituents as well as to the nation as a whole. I encourage you to be mindful of our intense interest in the decisions that you will be making.
I look for your commitment, if confirmed, which I fully expect will happen here, the commitment to work closely with each of us, as you consider and develop the department's energy policies. Again I thank you for your willingness to serve the president-elect and our country. And I do look forward to your comments this morning.
SEN. BINGAMAN: Thank you, Senator Murkowski.
I note, one of our colleagues is here. Obviously Dr. Chu is a constituent of Senator Feinstein.
And I believe she is here to make a short statement to the committee, and we welcome her.
Go right ahead.
SEN. DIANE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, Senator Murkowski, members of the committee. Not only is Dr. Chu a constituent, but, in the interest of full disclosure, both he and his wife Jean are friends. And so this is very easy for me and I'm delighted to be able to introduce him to you at this time.
Simply stated, in my opinion, there is no one brighter or better equipped than this man to become secretary of Energy. Dr. Chu is persistent, persuasive and passionate about science. And I think you'll find that his determination is infectious. He also has the power to inspire action and produce change. He is certain to marshal the enthusiasm and the leadership of the department when he takes the helm at the Energy Department.
Dr. Chu received a Ph.D. in physics from the University of California at Berkeley. He spent the bulk of his academic career at Stanford University and the University of California, where he heads the pioneering Lawrence Berkeley Lab. At both schools, Dr. Chu is considered one of the great brilliant thinkers of his generation. And his contributions to the field of science are internationally renowned.
As Senator Murkowski stated, in 1997, his research was recognized with the Nobel Prize in physics, I believe, for using a laser to be better able to gauge the size of atoms. He'll correct me if that's inaccurate. (Laughter.)
In 2004, the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab recruited him to run the lab. His directorship has been nothing short of revolutionary. Dr. Chu has initiated and encouraged brainstorming sessions across scientific disciplines. He convinced great scientists from biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and nanotechnology to switch specialties and work together to address our nation's energy challenges.
When Dr. Chu first arrived, the lab didn't push the scientific envelope of renewable energy technology. Today, that's all changed. Dr. Chu has called global warming and the need for carbon-neutral renewable energy, quote, "the greatest challenge facing science," end quote, and has rallied his team of scientists to address it.
This collaboration has created cutting-edge ideas, which he then fought to fund. He helped secure a $500 million BP -- British Petroleum -- grant for a biosciences institute and successfully established one of the Department of Energy's joint bioenergy institutes.
And his efforts have yielded great results. At the bioenergy research center, our best scientists are working to crack the mystery behind how enzymes in termites turn wood into energy.
Lawrence Berkeley researchers have developed a new battery technology that holds 10 times the amount of electricity of existing batteries. And the lab scientists are exploring and might be able to bring to reality the idea of artificial photosynthesis.
There is no doubt that we need a scientist of Dr. Chu's caliber at the Department of Energy, but let me just mention one other pressing issue Dr. Chu will face at the Energy Department, and that's nuclear policy. The Cold War is over, but there remain thousands of dangerous missiles in the world's arsenals, most maintained by the United States and Russia. Most are targeted at cities and are far more powerful than the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Today the threat is even more complex, as more nations pursue nuclear ambitions and the world becomes less secure.
The Obama administration, under Steve Chu's leadership at the Energy Department, has the opportunity to develop a new bipartisan policy that will determine the role nuclear weapons will play in our nation's security strategy, and the size of the future stockpile.
By law, President-elect Obama must set forth his views on nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy in his Nuclear Posture Review by 2010. I hope that the administration will move the United States closer to the dream of one of the predecessors, Ronald Reagan, who in his second inaugural declared, "We seek the total elimination one day of nuclear weapons from the face of the earth," end quote.
I think Dr. Chu, a physicist who understands nuclear technology far better than I, will bring a valuable perspective to our efforts to reduce the nuclear threat, so I look forward to working with him. It's just a delight to introduce him to you, Mr. Chairman. I know my colleague, Senator Boxer, is here. And California is worse off for his loss, and the Energy Department is much better off. So thank you very much.
SEN. BINGAMAN: Thank you very much.
Senator Boxer, did you have a statement for the committee?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-CA): I do, and I would ask unanimous consent that the entire statement be included in the record.
SEN. BINGAMAN: It will be included.
SEN. BOXER: I will make it shorter than the written statement.
Senator Bingaman and Senator Murkowski, my friend and colleague, Senator Feinstein, and all my friends on this committee on both sides of the aisle, I am very proud and pleased to be here to introduce such an accomplished choice for Energy secretary, Dr. Steven Chu.
The reason I was late in getting here is I'm sitting in Foreign Relations where Senator Clinton is about to speak, so forgive me if I jump up and run back, but we all have those conflicts today.
It's an exciting day all over the Hill.
Today's nomination hearing is one of the many steps our country will take as we move in a new direction to secure our nation's energy independence and tackle the enormous challenges of global warming.
I believe the United States must be a world leader in developing new renewable and alternative energy technologies to protect our environment, to protect the health of our people, but even more important, to be a leader in the world.
We do need a leader at the Department of Energy will a vision for moving our economy and our environment forward in these difficult times, and I think President-elect Obama has found that leader in Dr. Chu.
Thomas Friedman put it concisely in his most recent book, "Hot, Flat and Crowded." I commend it, that book, to all of you. He said -- and I quote him -- "The ability to develop clean power and energy- efficient technologies is going to become THE defining measure of a country's economic standing, environmental health, energy security and national security over the next 50 years," unquote.
And the nominee before us today has made it clear he understands this. Dr. Chu is uniquely qualified to be secretary of the Department of Energy, with experience in the public, private and academic sectors. A Nobel laureate physicist and a professor of physics and molecular and cell biology at UC Berkeley, Dr. Chu has been on the forefront of research and development, winning the Nobel prize in 1997 for work on the development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light.
Dr. Chu has served as director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab since '04, giving him direct knowledge and insight into the valuable work carried out at our national labs and work that this committee oversees. Dr. Chu developed innovative projects, such as Helios, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab's solar initiative to create transportation fuel from water and carbon dioxide.
Dr. Chu earned undergraduate degrees in mathematics and physics from the University of Rochester, a Ph.D. in physics from the University of California at Berkeley, a postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley, before joining AT&T's Bell Labs. He has been awarded 10 honorary degrees, published 220 scientific papers, been awarded numerous awards, including the American Physical Society's Arthur Schawlow Prize for Laser Science and a Guggenheim fellowship. And he's served on numerous boards, including the Hewlett Foundation, the Executive Committee of the National Academy's Board on Physics and Astronomy. Dr. Chu has also served as an adviser to the directors of National Institutes of Health and the National Nuclear Security Agency.
Mr. Chairman, I think all of us who have worked here for a long time have heard it so often stated that science must lead us; science is the key.
Well, we have our man in Dr. Chu. When we demand good science, up-to- date science, we can trust that he knows it.
And I am so proud to be here with my colleague Senator Feinstein to introduce an extraordinary nominee from my home state of California. And I so look forward to supporting his confirmation before the full Senate.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member Murkowski, and thank you all.
SEN. BINGAMAN: Thank you for your statement -- thank both of you. And I know that you do have other hearings you need to go to, and please feel free to excuse yourselves as appropriate.
The rules of the committee, which apply to all nominees, require that nominees be sworn in connection with their testimony.
Dr. Chu, I would ask that you stand and raise your right hand.
Do you solemnly swear that the testimony you're about to give to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
MR. CHU: I do.
SEN. BINGAMAN: You may be seated.
Before you begin your statement, I'll ask three questions that we address to each nominee before this committee. The first is this: Will you be available to appear before this committee and other congressional committees to represent departmental positions and respond to issues of concern to the Congress?
MR. CHU: I will.
SEN. BINGAMAN: The second question is, are you aware of any personal holdings, investments, or interests that could constitute a conflict of interest or create the appearance of such a conflict should you be confirmed and assume the office to which you have been nominated by the president?
MR. CHU: All of my personal assets have been reviewed by myself and the appropriate counselors and -- with regard to conflict of interest. And I have taken appropriate action to avoid any conflicts.
SEN. BINGAMAN: Thank you. The third question is, are you involved, or do you have any assets that are held, in a blind trust?
MR. CHU: No.
SEN. BINGAMAN: At this point, it's customary for us to invite the nominee to introduce any family members who are present. If you would like to do that, please go right ahead.
MR. CHU: Thank you. Mr. Chairman, I'd like to introduce the two family members with me today. Joining me is my wife, Jean Chu, wherever she is -- (chuckles) -- who I owe so much. She's been my steadfast partner, a highly valued counselor and a great source of strength.
Also joining us is my brother Morgan Chu, who has traveled from Los Angeles for this event.
SEN. BINGAMAN: We welcome both of them. At this point, why don't you go ahead and make your opening statement, Dr. Chu, and then we will undoubtedly have questions.
MR. CHU: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Bingaman, Ranking Member Murkowski, members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. I would also like to thank Senators (sic) Feinstein and Senator Boxer for that gracious introduction.
I'm deeply honored that President-elect Obama has selected me to serve as his Energy secretary, and I thank him for his support and confidence.
Mr. Chairman, this committee knows well the challenges we face, and climate change is growing and pressing problem. It is now clear that if we continue on our current path, we run the risk of dramatic, disruptive changes to our climate in the lifetimes of our children and our grandchildren.
At the same time, we face immediate threats to our economy and our national security that stem from our dependence on oil. Last year's rapid rise in oil and gasoline prices not only contributed to the recession we have -- are now experiencing, but it also put a huge strain on the budgets of families all across America. Although prices are now lower, we know that the economy remains vulnerable to future price swings. We must make a greater, more committed path towards energy security through a comprehensive energy plan.
President-elect Obama recognizes that we must take sustained action to meet these challenges, and he's put forward a comprehensive, long-term plan to do so. It's an aggressive plan, but one which I believe is achievable. I would not have accepted the president- elect's nomination if I had not thought it was essential that we move ahead on this plan.
In many ways, President Obama's plan builds on the good work of this committee in recent years. Elements of this plan include a greater commitment to wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable energy sources; aggressive efforts to increase energy efficiency of our appliances and buildings; more efficient cars and trucks and a push to develop plug-in hybrids; greater investment in technology to capture and store carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants; a continued commitment to nuclear power and a long-term plan for waste disposal; responsible development of domestic oil and natural gas; increased commitment to research and development of new energy technologies; a smarter, more robust transmission and distribution system; and a cap-and-trade system to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
Taking together these elements of President-elect Obama's plan will put us on a course to a better energy and environmental future, create new jobs and industries, restore U.S. energy technology leadership and help form the foundation of our future economic prosperity. It will be my primary goal as secretary to make the Department of Energy the leader in these critical efforts.
In pursuing this goal, I will use my experience as director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. As head of this 4,000-person organization for the last four-and-a-half years, I've worked to focus the labs on our energy problems. In particular, we have challenged some of the best scientists at the Berkeley lab to turn their attention to the energy and climate change problem and to bridge the gap between the science that the offices of science support so well and the applied research that leads to energy innovation.
We've also worked to partner with academia and industry. These efforts are working, and I want to extend this approach throughout the DOE's network of national laboratories, where 30,000 scientists and engineers are at work performing cutting-edge research.
At the same time, I recognize that the Department of Energy's mission is extremely broad, and for many -- and has many additional priorities that will command my attention. The work of the National Nuclear Security Administration in maintaining our nation's nuclear defense and promoting nonproliferation throughout the world is critical for our national security. I take this responsibility extremely seriously.
And I'm committed to work with the president, the national laboratories, other agencies, Congress and other organizations in the community, to ensure a safe and reliable nuclear stockpile and to address proliferation concerns as part of a long-term vision of a world without nuclear weapons.
The department also has legal and moral obligations to clean up the waste left from over 50 years of nuclear weapons production. I know that many of you represent states where the department has not yet fulfilled these obligations.
Cleanup of these materials is a complicated, expensive and long- term process. But I pledge to you, I will do my best to accelerate these efforts, in order to protect human health and the environment and to return contaminated lands to beneficial use.
I also pledge to continue the important work of the department in many other areas, including the Power Marketing Administration's delivery of affordable energy, the modernization of the electricity grid and the assembly of reliable energy data by the Energy Information Administration.
Finally I'm a proud member of the committee that produced the report, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," commissioned by Chairman Bingaman and Senator Alexander. The overarching message of that report is simple. The key to America's prosperity, in the 21st century, lies in our ability to develop our nation's intellectual capital particularly in science and technology.
As the largest supporter of the physical sciences, in America, the Department of Energy plays an essential role in the training, development and employment of our current and future corps of scientists and engineers. If confirmed, I pledge to nurture this incredible asset that is so essential for our economic prosperity.
As diverse as these missions and programs are, my efforts as secretary will be unified by a common goal: improving management and program implementation. Simply put, if the department is to meet the challenges ahead, it will have to run more efficiently and effectively.
One of my first priorities will be to put together a strong leadership and management team, one that shares not only my vision for the department but also my commitment to improving the way the department does business.
I do not underestimate the difficulty of meeting these challenges. But I remain optimistic that we can meet them. I believe in the vitality of our country and our economy. And as a scientist, I am ever optimistic about our ability to expand the boundaries of what is possible.
If I am confirmed as secretary of Energy, I commit to you that I will provide strong, focused, energetic leadership. In particular I look forward to a close partnership with this committee.
In my role as secretary, I look forward to a new chapter of collaboration, with this committee and with others in Congress, as we embark upon an ambitious mission to address our nation's goals towards a sustainable, economically prosperous and secure energy future.
The challenges we face will require bipartisan cooperation and sustained effort. I know that President-elect Obama is committed to exactly this kind of effort.
If confirmed as secretary, I will do my utmost to serve him and our great nation to the best of my ability. Thank you and I would be happy to take any questions you may have.
SEN. BINGAMAN: Thank you for your statement. Let me start with a couple of questions. And I'm sure other members will also have questions.
One of the issues, of course, that we're focused on is the development of this massive economic recovery bill or stimulus bill or whatever the phrase is you want to apply to it. And the expectation that, I think, all of us have is that it will contain literally tens of billions of dollars, for energy infrastructure development, for efficiency improvements, for weatherization, for research and development, for demonstration programs aimed at stimulating the economy but also solving our long-term energy problems.
There's been a lot of frustration here, in our committee and more generally, I think, about the length of time it's take to implement some of what we have previously enacted. I'm particularly thinking about Title 17 of the 2005 energy bill, which called on the establishment of a loan guarantee program. We still have no loan guarantees that have been made under that.
I guess my question to you is whether you are confident that the department will be able to implement all of the new responsibilities that are contemplated, in this economic recovery bill, for the department, and do so in a rapid and responsible way.
MR. CHU: Senator, thank you for the question. I share your concerns.
As I said in my opening remarks, during my tenure -- I mentioned in my opening remarks, during my tenure as director of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, although most people view me as a scientist, I spent probably three-quarters of my time paying attention to the operations side of the house. And certainly as we go forward, if we don't move rapidly -- economic stimulus really means that one has to move quite fast -- that it -- it's very important that I and the management team that I hope to assemble can actually move very rapidly in this direction.
SEN. BINGAMAN: (Good ?). Well, we wish you well in that regard.
MR. CHU: (Chuckles.)
SEN. BINGAMAN: Let me also ask you about the new organizational charts that we read about being established in the executive branch. There was a period, as you're well aware, when there was very little interest in the general public and perhaps in government as well on the whole subject of energy. And I'm sure during those periods there was very little desire on the part of others in the government to weigh in on energy-related issues.
Now my impression is that just the opposite is the case, and there's a great deal of interest on all sides, and that's good.
I know the president-elect has established or indicated his desire to establish a White House coordinator for energy policy some refer to as a czar. I wanted to know your take on how -- how does this affect your role, and how do you see your role in the issue of climate change, which you referred to, as it relates to others in the administration? Will you be able to be a strong voice and policymaker on that issue, as well as energy issues, as you see it?
MR. CHU: Well, Senator, again you've raised an important issue. I'm actually -- I think the president-elect, when he chose to start this Office of Energy and Climate Change, as the coordinating body, it's -- he -- it speaks to the importance he views this area -- just as the country has a Council on Economic Policy, a Council on Nuclear Policy, this is one move where it shows that the country's energy and climate change future is a very important issue.
So I'm looking forward very much to working very closely with Ms. Browner on this issue. She has a difficult task ahead of her in trying to coordinate people -- not only Department of Energy but many other stakeholders, such as the Department of Interior, EPA, the Treasury and so on. And I'm very hopeful and looking forward to meeting -- not meeting; I've already met with her -- but looking forward to working with her. And I've so far had very positive encounters, and I think it will be a collaborative and close cooperation.
SEN. BINGAMAN: Thank you very much.
SEN. MURKOWSKI: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Dr. Chu, thank you for your comments this morning.
I particularly appreciate the words about the importance of education and making sure that we're growing our scientists and those that will enable us to move this technology.
I also think, within the Department of Education, one of the challenges that we face is how we -- how we educate the rest of the country on what it is that we need to be doing; educating them more on how, as individuals and as families, they can make a difference with conservation and efficiency within their own home. So the education piece is important. And I hope you appreciate that that is a -- that is a big challenge within the department itself.
I want to ask you specifically on a couple issues. First is domestic oil and gas production. Last year, in July, the president removed the presidential moratorium that had prevented development on the outer continental shelf and then Congress let a similar ban expire at the end of the year.
I know that your comments say that we must focus on conservation. I agree. I agree that we also need to be moving forward with renewable energy sources, but I also feel very strongly that we have to enhance our domestic oil and gas production. Will you join us in opposing reinstatement of either ban and encouraging greater production of our domestic resources, both onshore and offshore?
MR. CHU: Well, the president-elect has said that the -- looking at oil production and gas production, both onshore and offshore, as part of a comprehensive energy policy, is something that he supports and I also support that.
So I think, going forward, that is something -- but I should also say, Senator, as you well know, that the reserves in the United States are perhaps 3 percent of the world reserves. And perhaps -- I know this number's from 2005 -- something like 5 percent of the world production of oil comes from the United States. So while it is important to fold into this the continued development of our oil and gas resources, one also should recognize those numbers and, as you and I both agree upon, that the more efficient use of energy in the United States is the one big factor that can most help us decrease our dependency on foreign oil.
SEN. MURKOWSKI: We certainly agree on that. But I think we also both agree that -- and you have said -- energy security should be our key issue, here.
I just came, also, from the Foreign Relations confirmation hearing of Secretary Clinton where, again, even upstairs in Foreign Relations, the focus is on energy security and how that -- how that melds with national security.
Let me ask you about nuclear energy. You have indicated in your statements and in our conversations that you support continued nuclear development. I think we recognize, as we want to move towards a world where we have greatly reduced our emissions, that nuclear is a very key component in our -- in our energy package there.
The Nuclear Waste Policy Act requires that, in exchange for a 1- million-(dollars)-per-kilowatt-hour fee on nuclear power, that DOE has an unconditional obligation to take and dispose of that nuclear waste. That was beginning back in 1998. Obviously, we're about 10 years late. The projected taxpayer liability for DOE's failure is $11 billion at this point, and growing.
The issues as they relate to Yucca Mountain -- I understand that President-elect Obama has said he opposes that. If confirmed, what do you propose to do, in the short term, to meet the government's obligation as it relates to the nuclear waste issue? And if you could speak just a little bit about the option of nuclear fuel recycling?
MR. CHU: Thank you, Senator. I think these are very thorny questions, as you know. The president-elect has stated his position very clearly. On the other hand, the Department of Energy has a(n) obligation, a real obligation, to safely dispose of -- provide a plan that allows the safe disposal of this nuclear waste.
And indeed, I am supportive of the fact that the nuclear industry is -- should have to be part of our energy mix in this century. And so in going forward with that, we do need a plan on how to dispose of that waste safely over a long period of time.
There's a lot of new science that's coming to the fore, and I pledge as secretary of Energy that I would work with the members of this committee to try to use the best possible scientific analysis to try to figure out a way that we can go forward on the nuclear disposal. So it will occupy, certainly, a significant part of my time in Energy.
SEN. MURKOWSKI: Can recycling be a part of that solution?
MR. CHU: Yes. Again, in the long term, recycling can be a part of that solution. Right now, the -- even though France has been recycling, Japan is starting to recycle, Great Britain is now beginning to look at this, I think, from my limited knowledge about that, that the processes we have are not ideal.
There's an urge to increase the proliferation resistance of recycling. This dates back to the days of the Carter administration, where he said the United States will go to a once-through recycling -- once-through fuel cycle in order to decrease the chance of nuclear proliferation.
Well, now we're in a different place and time. There are other countries doing recycling. And so the idea here is now to do it in a way that makes it more proliferation-resistant.
And there's an economic feasibility issue. This is actually, in my mind, a research problem at the moment, and something that the department should be paying a lot of attention to. I think there's time to look at it and develop means.
But certainly, recycling is an option that we will be looking at very closely.
SEN. MURKOWSKI: Mr. Chairman, my time has expired.
SEN. BINGAMAN: Senator Johnson?
SEN. TIM JOHNSON (D-SD): (Audio break.) Welcome, Dr. Chu.
As you know, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is named after a South Dakotan, Ernest Orlando Lawrence.
He was not only a South Dakotan, but he was an undergraduate of the University of South Dakota -- (short audio break).
What do you believe are the most important policies in accelerating the construction of high-voltage electrical transmission lines and for connecting new renewable energy projects to the grid?
MR. CHU: Well, Senator, you hit upon a very crucial element in our development of renewable resources, because, as you know and many senators in this room know, that some of the greatest renewable energy resources lie in areas like the Dakotas, the great solar resources in the Southwest of the United States, where they are far from population centers and the energy has to be transported to where there are more people.
So the challenges are, how do we construct the very expensive lines across state boundaries, sometimes through states that have not much to gain, quite frankly, from them, to population centers that would benefit from these renewable energies?
And so one really has to look perhaps at a new way of doing business. My understanding is currently the area that (bears/pays ?) the brunt of this cost, if not exclusively the cost, of these transmission lines (is ?) the port of origin of power generation. I think we might have to relook at that and see what else can be done. The development of renewable energy in the United States is a national concern, and so we have to really think nationally about that.
So that's -- so to answer specifically your question, there are two obstacles. The siting is one. And it's a complicated interaction between the federal government, state and local authorities, and the people whose backyards these transmission lines go through. And so this is something that's critically important, to how do you -- to site these in a way that takes into consideration the local feelings but yet also recognizes the national need.
And so this is by far and away the biggest obstacle. Mostly we have the technologies, and it's really that I see as the biggest obstacle.
SEN. JOHNSON: If the United States is going to produce 36 billion gallons of biofuel fuel by 2022, what policies do you think need to be in place to make sure we get there? Would these policies include moving to a higher level of blends of ethanol, such as E15 or E20?
MR. CHU: Well, this is -- this is partly -- in answer to your question, Senator, this is partly a technical question as to whether the automobile manufacturers' engines, without major redesigns, can be done. My understanding is, when you go up to E10, 10 percent ethanol, this is all right.
You can replace fuel lines to make them resistant to this ethanol blend. You can go to E85, which is 85 percent ethanol, and that works.
I frankly don't know -- and this is one of the things we have to look at, in conjunction with the automobile industry -- as to whether one can safely go to E15, E20 and higher. But this is something, again, that's on the table.
SEN. JOHNSON: Dr. Chu, I know you're aware of plans for large scientific project being developed in the state of South Dakota, known as the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory. Operation of this facility would ultimately require a great deal of collaboration between NSF and DOE, which you seek to lead. Could you comment on the prospects for this kind of interagency scientific collaboration, both with respect to this particular project and, more importantly, with respect to pursuit of DOE's overall mission?
MR. CHU: Well, thank you for that question, Senator. You may or may not know -- I actually visited the DUSEL underground laboratory. I met with the governor. And it's a very exciting project. As you said, it's headed by the National Science Foundation. But a member of the Berkeley lab and an adjunct faculty member of UC Berkeley is actually managing that project.
SEN. JOHNSON: Yeah.
MR. CHU: Now, going forward -- and this has to do with conflict of interest -- I'm going to have to remove myself personally from any decisions with respect to that project, because the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is deeply involved with that.
But the -- with regard to the cooperation of the Department of Energy, I think this is very important. It -- my understanding -- this is heavily, squarely in the sights of the Department of Energy in terms of what they plan to do with their high energy physics accelerator in Illinois, Fermilab to send the beam of neutrinos to the underground laboratory at DUSEL. So the cooperation between the NSF and the DOE is essential, and I will work as best as -- optimistic that that will not be a problem. But we'll see.
SEN. JOHNSON: Thank you.
SEN. BINGAMAN: Thank you.
SEN. RICHARD BURR (R-NC): Dr. Chu, welcome. Thank you for the time you and I have spent together. And I agree with the chairman; I hope we can expeditiously take care of your nomination out of this committee and on the Senate floor.
Let me follow up on Senator Johnson's comment or question as it related to transmission.
Do you support allowing FERC to have expanded authority as it relates to transmission?
MR. CHU: That's a very pointed question, Senator. (Laughs.) Let's just say that I know the bottlenecks, and there's been a lot of frustration. What little I know about this is -- is that what the Department of Energy has is authority to designate critical corridors and FERC to actually enforce that as, essentially, a right of way. And there are two designated corridors, one in the New Jersey area and one in California-Arizona. And we're now mired in what I believe are lawsuits.
And so it's a difficult question because what you really want to do is to make these things happen as quickly as possible. And so it's -- it has to be a negotiation, quite frankly, in my opinion. If one just expands the authority and makes it -- gives more power, my feeling is the states and the local people in those states might react.
And so one wants to try a gentler approach, but in the end, I think again it's in the national interest if we develop a national grid system that can (forward ?) energy, especially renewable energy, across the country.
SEN. BURR: Well, I think we both share the common goal as to where we need to get to, and I look forward to working with you on how we accomplish that national grid that is sufficient for the future.
In 2005, we passed EPACT, and that Energy Policy Act incorporated a loan guarantee program for companies willing to step out and build new nuclear generation. It was authorized at $18-1/2 billion -- not sufficient for the future, but a good start.
Just recently, Progress Energy in North Carolina announced two new plants in Florida that they would construct, and they made the statement that they think that they will seek to do these without DOE loan guarantees, because they had run into too many hurdles with the program. One, it's been slow to get up and running and structurally in place. Now all of a sudden, we're hearing companies that talk about it's problematic to go that route.
We're on a time line that, from a reliability standpoint, we have to start construction and we have to do it soon. Do you support the loan guarantee program, number one?
MR. CHU: Senator, yes, I do.
SEN. BURR: If confirmed, do you commit to expanding the authorization levels?
MR. CHU: Well, I think that's a matter of Congress.
SEN. BURR: Seeking to expand.
MR. CHU: I think it is something that is very important, as I said before, the development of nuclear power. But as, you know, these companies -- what little I know of what these companies are doing, it's a mixture of the loan guarantee program and the local regulatory authorities that can allow the utility companies to fold whatever they want to do in the rate base.
The point here is that nuclear power, as I said before, is going to be an important part of our energy mix. It's 20 percent of our energy use -- electricity generation today, but it's 70 percent of the carbon-free portion of electricity today, and it is baseload. So I think it is very important that we push ahead.
I share -- what little I know, again -- your frustrations of the time it's taking, and I will do my best to, as I said before, put together a leadership and management team that can do it in a more timely manner.
SEN. BURR: Do I have your commitment that you'll work to make this a more workable program?
MR. CHU: You absolutely do.
SEN. BURR: Thank you, Doctor. Last question. Do you feel that a formal international R&D effort should be pursued on items like battery technology, all-electric platforms, waste reprocessing? Or should we pursue this as the United States of America, though there's a need globally for that technology?
MR. CHU: Let me -- let me answer that, Senator, by saying what we, the United States, and the world needs to do is to get to the place where we want to go as rapidly as possible. In many of these instances, I do believe that international cooperation is the best way to get there. And so the short answer is yes.
SEN. BURR: Thank you, Dr. Chu.
SEN. BINGAMAN: Senator Dorgan.
SENATOR BYRON DORGAN (D-ND): Mr. Chairman, thank you very much.
Dr. Chu, I'm excited by your nomination. I'm pleased that you're here today. You and I have had an opportunity to visit several times. And I will be chairing the Appropriations subcommittee to fund your agency, so --
MR. CHU: Be nice. (Laughs, laughter.)
SEN. DORGAN: I will have the opportunity to call you as a witness before my subcommittee and we'll talk at greater length about a wider range of issues. But I'm interested in virtually everything that's been talked about here. I'm interested in the drilling issues, renewable, the conservation issues, coal, transmission, Yucca. There's a lot to talk about. And you see the wide interests of this committee.
I think this is an important time where urgent action needs to be taken on some energy issues. And so I'm pleased that you're a nominee and I'm happy to vote for you.
I do want to say that while I'm a strong supporter of renewables -- wind, solar, biofuels and many others -- I believe very strongly in conservation issues. We need to work hard on them. The efficiency issues are critically important. All of those are important.
I want to talk to you today just for a few moments about fossil energy and especially coal. You and I have talked at some length about the issue of coal, because 50 percent of all the electricity that we use in this country comes from coal.
All of us understand we have to use coal differently in the future, but I think most of us understand we are going to use coal in the future. I don't think anybody believes that beginning next month, next year, or the next decade, we're going to decide we're not going to use our most abundant resource. The question is how: How do we use it? What kind of investment in technology and capability can we make that allows us to use coal in a way that does not injure this environment?
So a couple of questions mixed together. Number one, your notion about promoting and developing clean coal technologies: How do you feel about -- how strongly do you feel about that, about continuing to invest in carbon capture and sequestration research?
And then, as you give me your assessment of -- your interest in those issues, I want you to -- for the committee, because you've done it for me and I'm perfectly well satisfied -- the statement you made about coal as your worst nightmare. I understand the context in which you made it. If we continue to use coal around the world in this country, in China and India, with no controls, that's a scenario that I would describe as a nightmare as well. But we're not going to continue that way.
So you said what you said, and that's been ricocheting around the Internet. Address that for the committee as well, as you talk about carbon capture and so on.
MR. CHU: Senator Dorgan, thank you for giving me the opportunity to expand on that quote that has been ricocheting around the Internet.
I said that in the following context. If the world continues to use coal the way we are using it today, and the world -- I mean in particular not only the United States but China, India and Russia -- then it is a pretty bad dream. That is to say in China, for example, they have not yet begun to even trap the sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides. There's mercury. There's particulate matter, as well as carbon dioxide.
But I also say many times in my talks that coal is an abundant resource in the world. Two-thirds of the known coal reserves in the world lie in only four countries: the United States, first and foremost, followed by India, China and Russia.
India and China, Russia and the United States, I believe, will not turn their back on coal. So it is imperative that we figure out a way to use coal as cleanly as possible. And so for that reason -- and I think -- again, my optimism as scientist -- we will develop those technologies to capture a large fraction of the carbon dioxide that's emitted in coal plants and to safely sequester them. So if confirmed as secretary of Energy, I will work very hard to extensively develop these technologies, so that the United States and the rest of the world can use it.
I also think that -- I mean, there are other -- some people in the United States who feel perhaps we should turn off coal. But even if we do it, China and India will not. And so we are in a position to develop those technologies so that the world can capture the carbon.
So I feel very strongly, as you know, in my communications to you, before the nomination, well before the nomination, that I feel very strongly, that this is not only an opportunity; it's something the United States, with its great technical leadership, should rise to the occasion to develop.
SEN. DORGAN: Well, I think, that's helpful to the committee. And you know, the fact is, I think, most of us believe, we have to do almost everything well. I mean, there's almost no source of energy that we shouldn't be embracing and deciding that, through research and technology and additional capability, that we can use to enhance this country's energy future.
One of my great concerns, I must just say in closing, is that, you know, the price of oil went to $147 in day trading, like a Roman candle, shot way up. But now it's come down. And you go to the gas pumps, and the pain is gone for the moment. And, but that should not in any way diminish our appetite and the urgency to pursue the kinds of things on renewables, on conservation but also, as Senator Murkowski and others have said, production.
I mean, we need to produce more, conserve more, go to a different kind of energy as well. And then as I indicated with coal and, I think as you have indicated, we need to use coal in a different way. And in order to do that, we need to claw forward a substantial amount of money, which President-elect Obama has pledged to do, to give us the research capability to unlock these mysteries. And I believe we will. I'm optimistic about it.
Dr. Chu, thank you very much. I'm excited with your nomination.
MR. CHU: Thank you.
SEN. BINGAMAN: Senator Barrasso.
SENATOR JOHN BARRASSO (R-WY): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
And Dr. Chu, congratulations. Welcome. Thank you for having your family with you today. I appreciated the time that you spent with me in the office last week. It was very helpful.
You know, one of the things we talked about is this past summer, when energy prices were up. There are significant consequences for American families, for the American consumer and for American business. And in these economic times, a number of members of the Senate are reading a book called "The Forgotten Man," about the history of the Great Depression, as we compare and look for solutions, as we look at a stimulus package.
And in one of Franklin Roosevelt's last campaign speeches, when he was running for president, he talks about energy and he talks about suffering by the taxpayer. He says, the taxpayers suffer when you pay $6 a month for electricity instead of 2. So he knew, and they knew then, that there are tradeoffs. And when costs go up, and expenses are high, that it impacts families all around this country.
The -- it is interesting on this committee because 32 years ago, when Jimmy Carter came into the United States, we had had the long gasoline lines. And when you look at the history of that, he charged a small group of energy planners, James Schlesinger, to produce a comprehensive energy plan in 90 days. And they had a number of different plans in there.
They came with a package to the committee. And at that time, they wanted tax incentives for companies switching from oil and natural gas to coal. And they also wanted tax penalties for those companies that did not switch to coal. So I'm encouraged by the comments by Senator Dorgan on our need for all of the sources of energy.
Concerns were raised with me when I read an article, in one of the Wyoming papers, that talked about President-elect Obama.
He said America must develop new forms of energy, new ways of using it, to which I agree completely.
He went on, however, to say that the dangers of being too heavily dependent on foreign oil are eclipsed only by the long-term threat of climate change, which, unless we act, will lead to drought, famine, and so on -- so that that is eclipsing the concerns we have for our national security, energy security, as we look globally.
You responded to the questions from Senator Dorgan about coal. I have other questions along that line, if I may. And one has to do with Vice President-elect Biden's comments, when he said, during the campaign, no coal plants here in America. And I'd like to have your comments on that concept and where we really do go from here in terms of carbon capture and sequestration. I know you met with members of the Illinois delegation the other day to talk about the project that they've been looking at in Illinois.
MR. CHU: Well -- so, specifically, let me just say that, as I said to Senator Dorgan -- that the coal resources in the United States are immense. And I am very hopeful and optimistic that we can figure out a way to use those resources in a clean way.
And so I think it's -- again, it's a question of science and technology, and really putting the pedal to the floor on trying to develop, as quickly as possible, the capture and sequestration technologies.
I'm very hopeful that this will occur, and I think that we will be using that great natural resource.
SEN. BARRASSO: Well, that goes to the question of how dollars are allocated, how investment decisions are made. And, with limited resources in our nation, do we go ahead along those lines, the carbon capture and sequestration, knowing that coal right now is the most affordable, available, reliable and secure source of energy? And what would you -- your advice be as you're trying to make careful spending decisions on what to invest in?
MR. CHU: It's one in which -- my advice would be, number one, to take to a slightly -- your question to a slightly different place.
If you look at -- as we go forward and build more power plants -- we have a good experience in my own state, California, where the conservation of energy, energy efficiency, the off-loading of energy at peak times to less-demanding times is a great investment in -- of intellectual thinking, because what it does is it enables power companies to build fewer power plants -- whatever they might be, whether they're coal plants, nuclear plants, whatever.
And that actually means, directly, that it is a lower rate to the American families, because it's return on investment of those utility companies that invest in these plants. And so the bigger thing we can do, and California has learned this very well, is that you can slow up the building of new power plants. And that's very important. As you slow up the building of the new power plants, we in the Department of Energy certainly -- if I'm confirmed -- would be working very hard to bring up these technologies as quickly as possible.
And so I think this is the direction I'm thinking is that we do the best we can on energy efficiency. That in my mind really remains the lowest hanging fruit for the next decade of two.
SEN. BARRASSO: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, my time has expired. If there's a second round, I'd like to have some additional questions. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. BINGAMAN: All right. Senator Sanders.
SEN. BERNARD SANDERS (I-VT): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and Dr. Chu. Thank you for being in the office the other day and welcome.
Dr. Chu, this morning, we've talked a little bit about nuclear. We've talked about coal and other technologies, but we haven't talked about solar. Last year, Senator Bingaman was kind enough to host a hearing in Albuquerque, New Mexico on the potential of solar-thermal plants. There are some experts who believe that the Southwest of this country is, in fact, the Saudi Arabia for solar energy and that we have the potential to produce 15 to 20 percent of our electricity from these solar plants.
Right now on the drawing boards, there are probably a dozen different plants that are being talked about. Some are pretty far along and they're ready to go, but because of the current crisis in the form of credit, many of those plants are not moving forward.
My first question, therefore, is: Would you be willing as Secretary to sit down with the solar industry and myself to see the role that the government can play in expediting the development of solar-thermal plants?
MR. CHU: Senator Sanders, I definitely would be willing to do that. I share your enthusiasm. Ultimately, going forward, solar energy is a great resource in the United States and we need to learn to exploit that.
SEN. SANDERS: And you see potential in solar-thermal plants?
MR. CHU: I see great potential in solar-thermal plants.
SEN. SANDERS: Great. Thank you. States like California and New Jersey have been very innovative through tax credits, through incentives, encouraging people to put solar panel units up on their rooftops. Can we learn something from those states in terms of federal policy in creating an energy system in which people all over this country are encouraged to have solar panels on their roofs and businesses as well?
MR. CHU: Well, it would be foolish of me to say that the rest of the United States can learn something from California.
SEN. SANDERS: Good.
MR. CHU: Although the rest of the senators might think differently, but in any case, I think there are a number of policies in California that have been proven to be very effective. Solar is one of them, the encouragement to put solar panels on rooftops, but let me go back -- they have done wonders in promoting energy efficiency in California. In the last 35 years, the use of electricity per person in California has remained constant while the rest of the United States went up over 50 percent.
SEN. SANDERS: Not in the State of Vermont. We have done a very good job in energy efficiency as well.
Let me ask you this question. As you well know, the federal government is a major consumer of energy in the military, in all of our buildings and all of our vehicles. It seems to many of us for a very long time that the federal government can play an extraordinary leadership role in moving toward energy efficiency and moving toward a variety of sustainable energies.
Can you give us some idea of how buildings and federal fleets and perhaps your work with the military, how at the end of the first Obama administration, our buildings and fleets will look differently than they are today?
MR. CHU: Well, senator, thank you for that opportunity. I think -- let's start with buildings. I think the energy in the United States, buildings consume 40 percent of the energy used in the United States today, roughly half and half between residential and commercial buildings and it's also my understanding, not only my understanding, but the Berkeley Lab has been talking and working with companies like United Technologies. We think that new commercial buildings can be built in a cost-effective way to actually reduce the use of energy in those buildings by 80 percent and with investments that would pay for itself in 10 years.
We are very gung ho on developing these ideas and to prove to the construction community that this is, in fact, not just fluff, but it's real.
SEN. SANDERS: Good. Very good. My last question is a simple one. We have many wonderful national laboratories throughout the country. We don't have any in New England and we think we have a lot to offer.
Is that something we might be able to discuss as well?
MR. CHU: We can certainly discuss it, and New England certainly has -- it's one of the centers of great universities.
SEN. SANDERS: Absolutely, and also given our climate up there, when we talk about energy efficiency and learning more about that and talking about sustainable energy, it would be a good idea to have some laboratory in a climate where the weather gets 20 below zero, Burlington, Vermont for example.
Thank you very much, doctor.
SEN. BINGAMAN: Senator Sessions.
SEN. SESSIONS: Thank you, Chairman Bingaman, and thank you for your leadership.
Dr. Chu, I'd like the opportunity to visit with you as your confirmation goes forward; I haven't had that opportunity. I hear good things about you. I think you're on a road to a successful confirmation, good science, good management is important for America, for every Cabinet agency in particular. In Energy, we've had some frustrations, I think, both sides of the aisle about some of the programs. You've been asked about the loan program. That really needs to move forward. It's just very frustrating to see it be delayed as it is.
There are so many things I'd like to ask you, but let's talk about nuclear power. You mentioned it as an option. It is something that will be part of the mix. I guess my question to you is: If you accept the CO2 as a global warming problem, isn't it important that we accelerate this proven source of clean energy? And will you take a lead, not just to talk about it, not just to opine about it as we often do, but actually do the things necessary to see if we can't restart a nuclear industry in America?
Are you committed to that?
MR. CHU: Senator, yes I am. I think, first, to get these first several projects going, in the meantime, we have to do the work necessary to see if recycling and proliferation-resistant and economically viable way is also feasible. I think those are two areas that are very important.
MR. SESSIONS: Now, recycling is something that I've offered legislation on and I believe is important because, not only does it dramatically reduce the quantity of waste, but it actually reduces dramatically its toxicity and its dangerous lifecycle, 600 years from 100,000 years and other nations are doing it.
A bit trouble that you quoted, Carter's decision and I think that was one of the more colossal disasters in the last 30 years in energy, but certainly as you noted, France recycles, Japan is doing it. The Brits are talking about it. Russia is using basically the technology we have.
So you think we can -- are you committed to making a breakthrough here? You know, we can study this and study it and the perfect being the enemy of the good, not get around to starting now to develop a recycling system that we know will work, waiting to have one that's much better.
How would you analyze that?
MR. CHU: Well, again, I'm not an expert in recycling technologies, but from the little I know, it's a technology that, in fact, I believe in the technology that France is using, a modified version of that was invented in the United States. But as I said before, it's not a perfect technology and the Brits and the Japanese are also looking to improve this. And so this is something in terms of the question on international cooperation, I think that one could go forward and try to develop something between the United States and the rest of the countries would be happy with, is something very important.
SEN. SESSIONS: Well, if it's not a -- big delays tend to be a depressant on going forward with nuclear power in general, and I think we need to make a decision pretty quickly about whether we would want to support current technology or wait on some new technology.
MR. CHU: Senator, so there are two questions, one is do we start by restarting the nuclear industry and building some reactors, so- called generation three in three parts reactors and plans are underway (inaudible). The recycling issue is something that we don't need a solution today or even 10 years from today. We have fuel, I think, we have to figure out a way to store that spent fuel safely, which is another critical issue in this and figure out a plan for long-term disposition.
So having said all of that, it doesn't mean that you stop everything today. It's very much like coal. We will be building some coal plants and one doesn't have a hard moratorium on something like that while we search for a way to capture carbon safely. It's very analogous in my mind.
SEN. SESSIONS: Well, we have to conclude. I thank you for your service. I do believe you have an opportunity to be an important leader for the country and I would hope that you would remember the burden on the individual by driving up costs of energy, I believe, had a big impact in our economic slowdown. It's hurting people throughout this country. The lower cost of energy is a good thing and I would also urge you to consider that the real crisis economically for America is that liquid that we're importing for our vehicles and the crisis, economically and on national security is not on electricity, but really what we can to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. BINGAMAN: Thank you. Senator Landrieu.
SEN. LANDRIEU: Thank you, Dr. Chu. I, too, enjoyed our visit in the office and look forward to many more and your confirmation looks like it's moving forward with dispatch.
But two comments and then three very brief questions. I listened with interest to your comments to Senator Murkowski about the known inventory in the United States of oil and gas and just wanted to point out that the emphasis is on the word known because we believe, many of us, that there are great resources that have yet to be discovered based on the fact that there's never been a comprehensive technology- driven inventory taken of oil and gas resources.
So one of the things that our chairman has been leading the effort and to some degree of success with my support and others, has been to push the United States government on behalf of the taxpayers who might be interested to actually know how much oil and gas they have. And so with so much off limit in the past and with limited access to just look, I would just urge you to be careful about the comment about four percent. It is true. We have four percent of the known reserves, but there is great evidence to suggest that there are lots of reserves that are unknown.
Number two, the importance of developing the right kinds of technology in this country on safe soil and in water where there are high environmental standards can never be underestimated, the importance of that to the world.
We don't have pirates in the Gulf of Mexico today. We did, Jean Lafitte, but since he left, I haven't heard or read about one since, but there are pirates all over the world, just what happened last week, $3 million having to be parachuted to a tanker to release men and women who had been held under the gun.
Oil and gas industries can't practice their craft safely in many places in the world. If we were to allow them to practice their craft here on and offshore with high standards and courts that can step in that exist transparently, we do the world a great service because they don't have to practice in the Niger Delta or in places that have very fragile environments and great consequences to the Earth.
So there are two facts I just wanted to leave with you, one, the reserves are not known and, B, the importance of allowing us to practice, if you will, on home turf before the world does things in bad ways that pollute everything and make the matter worse.
My question is, to follow up -- and I ask this because -- not because it hasn't been asked 10 times to you this morning, but I think in asking, you'll understand how many of us feel about nuclear. You've had at least six or seven questions. Mine's going to be the eighth. It's just apparent to us, mainly based on the great leadership of Senator Domenici -- who is with us, I think, this morning -- and others, the importance of getting off the dime on nuclear.
So would you just briefly state again what are your number one, number two and number three strategies to move us forward on nuclear?
MR. CHU: The first is to accelerate this loan guarantee program for several nuclear reactors that are needed to start -- to restart the nuclear industry. So that certainly -- you've got to get going, as you say. I agree with you, Senator.
The other question, and it's a concern of other senators, is that we need to develop a long-range plan for the safe disposal of the waste. And this is something that's the responsibility of the Department of Energy, and that has to go forward as well, because you have to develop that concurrently with the starting of this industry again.
And so those are actually, in my mind, the two highest priorities. The third is that there's research that has to be done -- again because reprocessing has potential for greatly reducing both the amount and lifetime of the waste and to extend the nuclear fuel. So --
SEN. LANDRIEU: Well, can we -- can this committee count on you to go to bat -- in the atmosphere of these troubled financial markets, can we count on your to go to bat with the administration to make sure that the energy sector of this country is given priority in terms of stabilizing markets so that we can get a lot of this done with government? You know, not being done by the government, but supported by the government.
MR. CHU: Yes. It's been said -- questioned again and again on the importance, for example, of that 18-1/2 billion dollar loan guarantee program to start moving in that direction.
SEN. LANDRIEU: And my time is expired, Mr. Chairman, but I will submit for the record a question about the department's policy to not include sugar as a base for producing biofuels; that it's been proven to be five to seven times more efficient than corn or wood products or biomass, and if you would be willing to change that policy given Brazil's tremendous success and the potential of so many of our agricultural areas to produce large amounts of sugar. But I'll submit that in writing and expect an answer. And thank you very much.
MR. CHU: Thank you.
SEN. BINGAMAN: Senator Corker.
SEN. BOB CORKER (R-TN): Mr. Chairman, thank you. And Dr. Chu, thanks for being here. I enjoyed our phone conversation the other day.
I know that the chairman has already asked a question regarding the relationship between you and Mrs. Browner and how that's going to be. And I hope that you set things up in an appropriate way. But I do wonder, Mr. Chairman, based on some of the articles that we've read -- and certainly it's great to have somebody of Dr. Chu's intelligence running the Energy Department -- would it make sense for us to possibly have Ms. Browner in or testimony at some point?
You don't have to answer now, but I wonder if that's something that would be helpful to the committee.
The issue of nuclear -- I'm going to skip down and just be very brief, since you've had now nine questions regarding that. I noticed a lot of people say that they support nuclear, but they also mention the waste issue, and it's as if once we solve the waste issue, then we can pursue nuclear again.
It's my understanding, based on what I've heard here today, you mean pursue nuclear now, in spite of the -- some of the issues that we have regarding waste. Is that correct? All out now; loan guarantees; let's move ahead. We have 104 plants today, probably need 300. Let's move on.
MR. CHU: Yes, because I'm pretty -- I'm confident the Department of Energy, perhaps in collaboration with other countries, can get a solution to the nuclear waste problem.
SEN. CORKER: Okay. Perfect. So you'd move ahead while that was being solved.
MR. CHU: I think certainly the first several plants that we talked about, to use the loan guarantee to start them going.
Just also, as you well know, Senator, I think this is a complicated economic decision by the utility companies that will invest in these plants. So it's partly loan guarantee; it's partly the rates --
SEN. CORKER: Right.
MR. CHU: -- that utility companies will allow. But it -- you know, but there is certainly a changing mood in the country because nuclear is carbon-free --
SEN. CORKER: Right.
MR. CHU: -- that we should look at it with new eyes.
SEN. CORKER: I have a number of questions that folks from our lab asked me to ask. I'll do that separately. I know those are more local in nature. But I certainly plan to ask those.
On climate change, I know that you advocate putting a price on carbon, based on things that you've said in the past. Do you advocate doing that through a tax on carbon or through a cap-and-trade system?
MR. CHU: Well, again, this is a position the president-elect has been pretty clear about, that it's a cap-and-trade system, for a variety of reasons. I would say -- and I support that decision. I think that --
SEN. CORKER: Is that the best decision or is that the politically best decision?
MR. CHU: (Laughs.) You're far more experienced about answering that question than --
SEN. CORKER: Well, I don't know. You seem pretty good. (Laughter.)
MR. CHU: (Laughs.) But certainly, I would -- the simpler the cap and trade system is, the happier I will be.
SEN. CORKER: That brings me to the next question. I noticed in 2007 you made in some comment that stakeholders want loopholes. And, of course, you didn't give any editorial response. You said stakeholders want loopholes.
We've noticed that stakeholders want lots of loopholes and that cap-and-trade systems that have been put forth in the past have all kinds of free allocations and domestic offsets and international offsets. And at the end of the day, you're not achieving anything other than creating a system that a lot of people can make a lot of money off of but really doesn't have a lot to do with carbon reduction. I wonder if you might, with us, give some kind of editorial comment as it relates to loopholes and those kinds of things that make the market less pure.
MR. CHU: Well, I think the cap-and-trade system -- first, let me also go back a little bit and answer another question I didn't answer yet, as to why -- or didn't fully answer -- as to why a cap-and-trade system is something I favor.
Countries around the world are cap-and-trade system, and one has to integrate with the rest of the world, because the climate change problem is a world problem.
SEN. CORKER: Well, hopefully it wouldn't integrate much, because the European system is not reducing carbon. So hopefully, they would integrate towards whatever we ultimately did.
MR. CHU: But again, philosophically, I think -- you know, I have not studied these bills that have been advanced on the Senate.
But I -- philosophically the simpler the cap-and-trade system, the clearer it is, I think, I think, the better.
But there are stakeholders. And I recognize there are stakeholders. And so again I plead --
SEN. CORKER: Stakeholders are usually those who emit carbon. And anyway, I look forward to having some conversations. I know my time is almost up. One of the -- I know some of the folks here have asked you about coal. And obviously coal is a part of our energy base right now. And that's the way it is. And without some huge diminution in our standard of living, it's going to be a part of our base for some time.
I hear lots about carbon sequestration, capture and sequestration. And I'm again just a junior senator from Tennessee. I have a hard time sort of imagining this commercial maze of carbon being captured and sequestered and where it goes. And it's just hard for me to get my mind around, on a commercial base, when you look at the amount of carbon that's emitted from coal. And we certainly use coal extensively in the State of Tennessee unfortunately, as has been noted in the press recently.
But do you have any comments about your sense of the real use of carbon capture and sequestration, on a real scale, that deals with the real issues of carbon from coal?
MR. CHU: Well, very quickly, I think, from the geophysicists, geologists that I've spoken with, that it is a possibility. But it is a -- it's not -- it's a significant challenge.
We are sequestering, in the world, a few million tons of carbon per year. In the areas that I know about, it's being done safely. But there are many different geological sites that we have to actually test. And again this is something the Department of Energy has begun to do and has to accelerate the testing, to make sure we can sequester the amounts we need, in order to make a significant impact on the carbon emitted.
SEN. CORKER: A lot of people think that will happen when donkeys fly, if you will. And I'd love to hear any follow-up from you, as to what we do with coal in that regard, because it is a difficult situation.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the time and for your leadership. As usual, I look forward to working with you the next two years.
SEN. BINGAMAN: Thank you very much.
SENATOR BLANCHE LINCOLN (D-AR): Thank you, Mr. Chairman, certainly for the opportunity to be here and discuss some really critical issues.
Dr. Chu, welcome to the committee. I certainly enjoyed having the opportunity to visit with you earlier last week, I suppose, and excited about the opportunities that lie before us all, in terms of addressing our dependence on foreign oil, creating a greater environment, for the future of our country and certainly for our children. And I think you've got great opportunities to lead us in that endeavor. And so we hope to be able to work through some of our questions.
And I guess one of the ones I'd like to start with, I know that you've heard from me an awful lot in terms of the rural aspect of my state. But what maybe perhaps are your visions for creating jobs, in rural states like mine and communities, through energy policy reform, in stimulus and also in other energy-related legislation?
MR. CHU: Well, thank you, Senator, for that question. As you may know -- (coughs) -- excuse me, the tail-end of a cold that won't let go.
I really believe in the probability that we can develop fourth- generation biofuels; that is to say, biofuels that come from the agricultural waste streams that we now generate, the lumbermill waste streams, growing grasses that don't have to compete with prime agricultural land in the growing of food. And so this is technologies that convert these streams like wheat straw, half the corn stover, rice straw, lumber waste, into fuel -- not just ethanol, but gasoline diesel-like fuel that can be blended at any ratio and that can be used in existing pipelines.
SEN. LINCOLN: Well, I apologize for being late. I was -- had another hearing, another committee meeting. But have you gone through your Helios project, I guess which is one thing that you've spent a considerable amount of your time on, which is reflected in the biofuels arena? Have you spoken about that already?
MR. CHU: No, no, I haven't. So let me just briefly mention that in the first six months at Berkeley Lab, when we started on biofuels, we have trained bacteria and yeast -- "train" is perhaps an understatement, but we've gotten bacteria and yeast, modified them so that they take simple sugars and produce not ethanol, but gasoline- like substitutes, diesel-fuel substitutes and jet plane substitutes.
And the scientists -- these are brilliant scientists who have spent most of their time in basic research -- are very focused on making this technology commercially viable.
SEN. LINCOLN: So is what you're talking about there basically using, I guess, a greater starch or a more cellulosic material, as opposed to just basic sugars or starches?
MR. CHU: Well, we're actually looking at the entire -- actually, now we're getting into science. I love this. (Laughter.)
SEN. LINCOLN: Okay. I just want to make sure it's something I grow. (Laughter.)
MR. CHU: It definitely will be something you grow. I think we're looking at -- it's a blank sheet of paper, and we're looking at the entire possibilities of developing better plants that require less energy inputs, that are more robust. One has to look at algae as well. And how do you break those plants down into the kind of sugars that these little critters, the yeast and bacteria, can actually use?
We are also looking at how we can actually in a single organism break down the cellulosic material in a way: new so-called pre- treatment processes that separate the protective molecules that nature has invented to protect plants from being attacked by microbes and fungi. So we're looking at everything, because you can improve all of these things.
And with a blank sheet of paper, you actually -- instead of focusing on this thing within the confines of one person's expertise, what we're doing is we're looking at: you can improve this in a different way, the next thing in a different way. And I think that's why I'm so optimistic some real progress can be made.
SEN. LINCOLN: We appreciate that. Optimism is good. Just in terms of promoting renewable energy, I know you all talked about coal and you've talked about nuclear reprocessing, things that are important to me because of the diversity of our energy in Arkansas, so I'll just continue on renewable energy, if I may, with just two last questions.
One, do you agree that promoting biofuels has the potential to play a significant role in a federal climate change strategy, in addressing our nation's carbon footprint?
And what are -- you've stated your views on -- regarding different feedstocks for biofuels, like the woody biomass and the animal waste, which is critical for us. But I also think it's important -- and I don't know if you've seen this map. I'm sure you have. It's very colorful and pretty. But it is also is very demonstrative in what it shows us, where wind energy.
We have a diverse nation, geographic differences all across the great country with respect to renewable energy opportunities. More specifically, the geographic disparities in the values that we are placing on renewable energy incentives that need to be taken into account, because if you see the strong white areas in the map, it's mostly the southeastern part of our country, where we don't have any wind. So, you know, I guess we're hoping that you will take a look at this and be someone that can be supportive in the analysis to support parity in terms of all of the incentives that we're providing for all of the different types of resources that we need for biofuels, particularly biofuels, but certainly renewable energies.
And I don't know what your stand is on that, but I'm specific on section 45, where we look at the renewables. And obviously wind is critical. We love wind in Arkansas, because we produce the blades and the turbines for the windmills, but we don't produce a lot of wind. So for us to be able to be a player and constructively engaged in contributing what we have to contribute, our hope is -- is that your studies and background in biomass and biofuels will be helpful to us in better understanding how we can, you know, do a better job at what we have to offer from rural regions, particularly in the southeast, that produce an awful lot of agricultural waste and biomass combined.
So I just hope that you'll take a look at that. I don't know if you've got any comments on how diverse we need to be, but I hope it's pretty diverse.
MR. CHU: I think we have to be very diverse. The solutions have to come from just about every sector. And so very briefly, I think the biofuels is very important to get us off of the dependency on foreign oil. And it is not a possibility, but I think a probability that we will develop those technologies.
SEN. LINCOLN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHU: Quickly, too.
SEN. BINGAMAN: Thanks.
SENATOR JIM DEMINT (R-SC): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Dr. Chu. And I appreciate your visit to my office. I very much enjoyed our conversation.
And I'd like to just go back through a little of that, maybe just to get some confirmation here on the record. I think we both agreed on the importance of moving from where we are with heavy use of fossil fuels to renewables and non-emitting fuels.
But we also talked about the importance of -- of recognizing realities, so over the next 15 or 20 years that we do have to bridge from where we are to where we want to be, with coal, with nuclear. And I guess I'd like to hear you restate this in some way, that you talked about our dependence on coal for another 15 or 20 years, and the importance of nuclear generation of electricity replacing coal as quickly as we could.
And we also talked about carbon taxes and climate change ideas now, which concern me when they are talked about in the context of, we need to begin penalizing the use of fossil fuels now; we need to have taxes on these fuels and to discourage their use now. I think you and I agreed that the rational way to do that is certainly to create incentives for non-emitting fuels and discouragements, if necessary, for polluting fuels; but that these carbon taxes or penalties should not take place until we give businesses and utilities the time to convert to other forms of generation, other forms of energy. And I just wanted to ask you to talk a little bit more about that, just to give us perspective of what to expect from the Energy Department under your leadership.
MR. CHU: Well, Senator, I believe what I said in -- when I was meeting with you, and thank you for the discussions -- was that coal and nuclear as well as gas of course form the base load generation of electricity today. And we have to evolve, recognizing that it cannot happen overnight, the nurturing of renewable energy resources. This takes a bit of time.
I am very -- I think we should push as hard as we can, but the reality is that the base load generation today is not from those resources. So I think that you know again the -- we need all the solutions. We need to make them as clean as possible as quickly as possible. And so I have to say that -- all I can say is that we really need to do all of these things.
SEN. DEMINT: Right. But maybe I can ask again in the context of, I know you made a statement that we need -- I don't want to put words in your mouth, and the media we find is not always correct -- but that we should do what is necessary to raise the price of gasoline in our country to that of the Europeans. And I assume that's in the context of discouraging the use of fossil fuels. But that's an example for me of, until there are alternatives available for people, all we are doing is raising the cost of living in a sense, adding a tax to folks who are trying to get to work. And how do we deal with that? Certainly we want to have those incentives out there to move to the right types of energy, but do we really want to add tax to living and business now when there are really no choices.
MR. CHU: Well, I think that senator -- the president-elect has made it very clear that gasoline taxes now are off the table; it's not an option. And thank you for pointing out that that was made in the context of how do we control our use of oil in the United States.
Now I feel very strongly and deeply that what the American family does not want is to pay an increasing fraction of their budget, their precious dollars, on energy costs, both in transportation and in keeping their homes warm and lit. So I'd go back to the first thing that I go back and back to, is that energy efficiency is the key to that, that the weatherization of homes, more efficient cars, is -- both of those things are actually beneficial in two ways. It directly lowers the cost to the American family, what they pay in energy; and it reduces the demand of this energy. Therefore, that as we saw as the world entered into this recession, that as we went into this recession the industry slowed down and the demand went down and the price went down.
So I think if we take as a goal let's keep the energy costs to the American family -- we do not want to see ever-rising costs. And so when we work toward more efficient cars and tighter homes in terms of insulation, this will do exactly that in both these. So as the Department of Energy, this is one of the things that I would love to see happen, and would greatly encourage in any way I could.
SEN. DEMINT: Thank you. I can see I'm out of time, but if I could just leave with just one -- I won't ask the question, but a comment of, nuclear is obviously important. For years states like South Carolina that have received a significant amount of nuclear waste from the Cold War and are holding that in temporary storage have been promised that one day we would have a site, Yucca Mountain, to move that to. The law allows us to send it back if that doesn't happen, and you and I, we talked about it, and I guess we can talk about it in another setting if there is not time today. But we are very concerned with the political quagmire of Yucca Mountain. At the same time we have very real exposed danger in South Carolina and other states of above-ground storage of nuclear waste.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'll yield back since I'm out of time.
SEN. BINGAMAN: Thank you.
SEN. MARIA CANTWELL (D-WA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Dr. Chu, welcome. Congratulations on your nomination. I look forward to working with you.
I think it might be the first time we've had somebody nominated to the Cabinet that has actually won a Nobel Prize prior to being in the Cabinet, so congratulations on that. And I'd love to ask you about U.S.-China energy bilateral, or the energy efficiency and renewable energy technology office -- I see Mr. Richert here this morning -- that he used to run. I'd love to talk to you about that. I'd love to talk to you about smart grid legislation, and the platform transformation that I think is available to us. But all of those I'm going to have to put aside, and hope that we can dialogue about them in the future, and turn to something more specific.
Your DOE budget is about $25 billion. Ten percent of that is Hanford cleanup in the state of Washington. And while it is in the state of Washington, it really is a national priority, and the most urgent need there is that there are 53 million gallons of radioactive waste stored in about 177 underground tanks, 67 of which are confirmed to have leaked into the groundwater, and are reaching toward the Columbia River.
Now many of these tanks are 30 years beyond their original shelf life, so first of all, are you aware -- I think you are aware of the problem that exists there with groundwater contamination and its plume; is that correct?
MR. CHU: Yes, I am.
SEN. CANTWELL: So my question is, this funding over the last several years has basically fallen flat, and part of the issue is that many people look at that and see it's such a big number, 10 percent of the overall budget, but that's the size of the cleanup. And so we have gotten into obviously disputes over the process of this cleanup. So I want to know if you support the triparty agreement, including the requirement that the tankways must be retrieved -- 99 percent of the waste in the tanks -- as part of the cleanup process.
MR. CHU: I -- I -- as I said in the my opening remarks, the Department of Energy has a legal and moral obligation to clean up these sites. And I think the frustrations you have with the speed and effectiveness at which the Department of Energy is going about its business is something of concern. And I will do what I can to make the funds available to -- and have them used more effectively. I think there is also some concern about how effectively those upscale, ($)6 billion, I'm not sure the exact number, but something like that, have been used. And so I am committed to cleaning up these sites.
SEN. CANTWELL: And so do you support the triparty agreement in that 99 percent of all the waste should be cleaned up?
MR. CHU: Well, I'm going to plead a little bit of ignorance on the exact numbers of that, as -- but I will certainly look into that, get back to you. And I know it's of great concern to you.
SEN. CANTWELL: If you could give us an answer on the 99 percent. Because obviously the last administration thought that they could expedite the cleanup, but one of the ways that they would do it is by leaving more of the waste in the tanks. And obviously that from a scientific perspective is unacceptable to us in the state of Washington, and to the -- I think the whole northwest, and probably to the country if they were more informed about it.
And secondly, what are your thoughts -- and I appreciate I think that you may have even suggested that stimulus might include some waste cleanup -- but would you support increasing the Hanford funding, maybe as much as ($)2 billion over the next four years, so it could meet that time frame of cleanup? Part of the issue is that the state has identified -- you're really talking about this plume and groundwater contamination impact in drinking water, salmon habitat. And if you don't get the waste out of the tanks and into either new tanks, or treated, you know, we have a short time period here. So they've estimated that we need about $2 billion more over the next four years. So would you be supportive of that number?
MR. CHU: Well, again, I'm not sure of the exact number. But as I've told you and others, I did argue in the discussions for the stimulus package that this made good sense to me, that we actually get some funds, significant funds, into the stimulus package for this cleanup.
Certainly we have to take every step we can to make sure that this plume does not get into rivers, the Columbia River, for example. This would be very bad.
SEN. CANTWELL: Well, some of the contaminants are getting there but they're not at a level, and obviously urgency is of the utmost. So I'll look forward to getting a written response, if we could, about the $2 billion and the 99 percent on the triparty agreement.
And if you could -- one of the things we're also concerned about is BPA and their ability to continue to accommodate renewable energy and to support borrowing authority for Bonneville Power Administration to expand their transmission lines. Would you be supportive of that?
MR. CHU: Yes. I think the expansion of transmission lines, especially for the development of renewable energy, is something I definitely support.
SEN. CANTWELL: Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. BINGAMAN: Thank you.
SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-NJ): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Dr. Chu, congratulations on your nomination. I regret we didn't have a chance to speak, but let me ask you a couple key questions to me.
In a previous answer you gave to Senator Burr about the National Transmission -- Interest Electric Transmission Corridor, you said there may be opposition, but a national grid is in the national interest. And I don't think anybody disputes that. But the Department of Energy has designated the entire state of New Jersey as part of a national interests electricity transmission corridor. Many of us believe that designation was a result of a subpar congestion study. And on the West Coast, the Department of Energy produced a transmission-line-by-transmission-line study of congestion which resulted in a narrow, more targeted transmission corridor, achieving the goals but doing it in a way that was less of an impact.
The Mid-Atlantic Transmission Corridor covers all or part of eight states and the District of Columbia and has been characterized by many state regulators as setting up a superhighway to coal electricity. My question is, as the Department of Energy updates their congestion studies, will you ensure that they are accurate on a transmission-line-by-transmission-line basis, one? And two, if the study shows it is appropriate, will you be willing to narrow the Mid- Atlantic Transmission Corridor?
MR. CHU: Well, I'm not familiar with the details of that, but having lived near New Jersey for nine years while I was working at Bell Laboratories, I recognize that New Jersey's a bigger state than some other people think. And in answer specifically to your question about as we update the analysis, would I review that and be willing, based on the facts that we learn, to narrow it -- absolutely. It's all about learning more about the details of these things and --
SEN. MENENDEZ: I appreciate that. Would you do what was done on the West Coast? I don't understand why it would be a difference of a transmission-line-by-transmission-line congestion study.
MR. CHU: Yeah, I don't know the details of that. And just listening to you, it seems to be --
SEN. MENENDEZ: Well, if you could review that and get back to us. That's really critical (to know ?).
MR. CHU: Absolutely.
SEN. MENENDEZ: Secondly, we've -- I've sponsored legislation. We are proud in New Jersey of being the second-largest producer of solar-related equipment. And one of our challenges is getting states to adopt net metering and interconnection standards so that we can integrate solar energy into the grid.
And we believe that if such legislation were enacted into law, a significant market barrier to distributed solar generation would finally be gone. Is that something that you support, in terms of net metering and interconnection standards?
MR. CHU: Yes. In fact, as you may or may not know, the National Academy of Sciences, and Engineering, has had a study, an ongoing study -- a very distinguished panel of people chaired by Harold Shapiro, the former president of Princeton. And I'm on that panel, over the last two years. And I've specifically put -- there's six subpanels; I specifically put myself on the transmission and distribution subpanel, because it is -- I saw it as vital that we get it right as we modernize the system.
And the so-called smart grid and the metering and all these things that you speak of is a very important part of the strategy, the overall strategy, to a sustainable energy future.
SEN. MENENDEZ: And then finally, Senator Sanders and I, working with others here, authored -- and it's into law -- the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program in the 2007 energy bill. This is try to -- this is to try to drive, at municipal and county levels, a lot of the efforts. It was the number-one priority of the U.S. Conference of Mayors to try to get a significant level of work in energy infrastructure and the -- increasing the use of renewables at that level, saving money for the local property-tax payers, creating less demand, and, obviously, having a positive impact on the environment.
I certainly hope you will look at that as we talk to the president-elect on the stimulus package. I know there's some elements of that in there. I hope it is something that you will see in your new role as something to be an advocate of at the end of the day.
MR. CHU: And I would certainly promise to look into that.
SEN. MENENDEZ: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. BINGAMAN: Senator Wyden?
SEN. RON WYDEN (D-OR): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Dr. Chu, welcome, and I too look forward to supporting you as our secretary.
I think the question -- and Senator Cantwell has laid out many of my concerns very well -- comes down to this: Are you going to follow the flawed Bush blueprint for nuclear-fuel reprocessing or do something different? This is a big tome -- I can barely lift it -- that essentially is the blueprint. And what I think I and others are looking for is to see whether you're going to make a break with this, essentially, game plan, and if so, how?
MR. CHU: Well, as I talked about with the other senators, it -- the blueprint you're talking about is, I believe, the fuel recycling issue? The --
SEN. WYDEN: That's part of it. I mean, it's processing. It's fabrication. It's more reactors.
MR. CHU: Right. Right.
SEN. WYDEN: I mean, the bottom line is, this essentially greenlights more without dealing with the enormous amount of waste that we have. And I think what I and others are looking for is whether we can work with you to essentially change that blueprint. Would you be open to that?
MR. CHU: Yes, I would.
But I -- I've stated, and believe, that nuclear power will be part of our energy going forward, because it is carbon-free and because it is baseload. Now, having said that, we don't have all the answers today as to how to develop that in a way that would make us all happy, particularly about waste -- disposal of the nuclear material.
And so I certainly will be working, with all the members of this committee and other members of Congress, to develop a plan that could make as many people as possible happy. But I think given the fact that it is 70 percent -- nuclear power is 70 percent of our carbon- free electricity generation -- that cannot be denied.
SEN. WYDEN: Your answer, for today's purposes, is fine by me. And I essentially subscribe to much of the same philosophy. But the fact is, we want to hear that you're open to modifying this blueprint. You've indicated that you are, and we want to work with you in that regard.
Second question: I think in a very real way, the ballgame on climate change is bringing the Chinese and the Indians into a global agreement. I would like your thoughts, particularly with respect to China, where I know you've worked with Chinese scientists and environmental leaders.
Lay out your sense of how you would bring the Chinese in particular into a global agreement on climate change.
MR. CHU: Well, first, I think, the United States and China are now emitting more than 50 percent of all the carbon emissions in the world today. And so if the U.S. and China don't get this right and don't move forward, I don't think the rest of the world can really follow. It's such a significant factor.
Now, currently we're in a standoff position. The United States position is, we don't go forward unless China goes forward. And China's position is, well, the richer countries of the world, in particular the United States, have put most of the carbon up there previously.
We think perhaps we should be given a bye. And I feel pretty strongly that going forward, all the countries of the world, China and India included, have to be included in a carbon plan to reduce the emission of carbon.
I think the United States can take the first step. And hopefully China will immediately, very closely follow. They too recognize the growing concerns of climate change on their own country. They're beginning to see these effects and have gotten increasingly concerned.
Now, if China doesn't follow, we will have to relook at this. But I think it's very important to do both that. Secondly we need to start working with China and India to actually concurrently develop some of the technologies, starting with efficiencies.
If we can develop and invent new methods of, for example, building efficiencies that China can use as they build their new cities an enormous amount after the recession is over -- that we expect an enormous amount of building in China. It's important that the United States and others help China do it right and build energy-efficient buildings. These are things that we should cooperate with.
But I think all the countries of the world have to be part of this overall thing, because it is the world we're talking about.
SEN. WYDEN: Thank you, and my time has expired. Just a bit of housekeeping: If you'd also send me the documents you're going to send Senator Cantwell, both with respect to Bonneville and Hanford. I thank you. I think you're going to be an excellent secretary, and I look forward to your leadership, especially on this question of climate change.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. BINGAMAN: Thank you.
SEN. MARK UDALL (D-CO): Welcome, Dr. Chu. Everywhere I travel, there is an excitement about your appointment. There is a belief that a renewed emphasis on science would serve not only the state of Colorado but our country and our world in very important ways, and I look forward to supporting your confirmation on the Senate floor when that occurs.
Like Senator Cantwell, I've spent much of my time in the arena of public policy focusing on energy policy and all the potential that it presents to us, and I would like to explore these marvelous opportunities that we have. But I would, in the interest of keeping faith with those in Colorado, like to turn to a local concern, but one that has broader national implications as well. And that's the Rocky Flats environmental technology site.
And currently, there are three areas in which we have more work to do. We have closed that site. It's a wonderful success story, one that can be applied to other environmental technology sites around the country, like Hanford. But we have to continue that monitoring there of groundwater contamination levels, soil contamination levels and the like. That's the number-one concern that we have.
Secondly, we have a workforce that literally worked itself out of a job, in the interest of closing up that site. And there are promises that have been made to the people who worked there so loyally and in such a committed fashion, to look after their health needs. There are many people who have been made sick by exposure to radioactive materials in the worksite there.
Third, there's ongoing litigation that's been brought by surrounding property owners regarding the damage done by contamination over the 50 or so years that that site's been in place.
I'd like a commitment from you that once you are confirmed, that you'd take a close look at these three issues -- ongoing cleanup, worker health, and property damage claims -- and make sure that we're doing everything we can to protect public health and to keep faith with these Cold War warriors who put themselves in harm's way in no less a way then those who fought in the hot wars of the -- of that Cold War period. Can I receive your assurances that you'll focus on this particular and important area?
MR. CHU: Senator, you will have my commitment. I will certainly look into this.
SEN. UDALL: Thank you for that.
Again, I want to emphasize that by doing so, then we'll send a message to other workers in other parts of the country that as we clean up places like Hanford, we work in Ohio and Oklahoma and South Carolina, Nevada, that those promises will kept to those people there who work so diligently.
Secondly, could I turn to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL, as we know it -- a(n) important part of Colorado's economy, but again, a leading factor in developing new energy technologies. I heard Senator Sanders speak about his interest in opening a facility in Vermont. Perhaps we could have an annex of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in every state.
But the Department of Energy has made a commitment to the mission of NREL, and I wanted to receive assurances from you that you'll continue to focus on that commitment and make sure those resources are forthcoming.
MR. CHU: I think NREL is -- will play a key role going forward in the renewable energy development and energy efficiency. And so you have my assurance that -- (chuckles) -- NREL is certainly on my radar screen, and it has to play a vital role.
SEN. UDALL: I don't know if you've had a chance to visit the laboratory. I think you have, and you're probably been a frequent visitor. But we'd like to host you again in the near future.
Let me turn, as my time begins to expire, to a(n) opportunity that's important to the chairman. He's been a champion here in the Senate. That is the renewable electricity standard concept. In Colorado we passed the first citizen-initiated renewable electricity standard four years ago, and the results have been remarkable -- thousands of new jobs, millions of additional revenues.
Would you work with us here in the Congress to establish a national renewable electricity standard?
I know my friends from the South have some concerns about will they actually have those resources other regions of the country -- feel like they might be disadvantaged. But I believe that when you -- to use maybe an ill-considered metaphor or term -- when you drill into the opportunities for renewable energy, they exist all over our country. And we could make markets. We could leaven the cost of natural gas for peaking power. There are many, many benefits. But I'd like to work with you on a renewable electricity standard at the national level.
Would you comment, in the last few seconds that we --
MR. CHU: Well, very briefly, I would be looking forward to working with you and all the senators on the committee for that. As I said repeatedly, the renewable energy is something that we really have to develop as quickly as possible.
SEN. UDALL: Thank you again. I see my time's expired.
SEN. BINGAMAN: Senator Bayh.
SENATOR EVAN BAYH (D-IN): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Dr. Chu, it's nice to see you. I am grateful for your devotion to public service and I enjoyed our conversation on the phone yesterday.
I would like to just briefly reiterate some of the comments you've heard about coal. My state drives about 98 percent of its electric production from coal. Anything in that area's going to have a major impact upon businesses and consumers across my state. So the whole notion of clean coal technology, sequestration, those sorts of things are very important to our state.
As a matter of fact, I think a company has in the works a facility in Edwardsport, Indiana, that will sequester carbon from coal production. So it's one to keep your eye on. As we go forward, I would recommend it to perhaps -- I think Senator Corker, who is no longer with us, was expressing some curiosity about this. Perhaps we'll have some good data from Indiana.
Secondly, just as a housekeeping matter for your staff, we are a center of transportation production. And the loan program for advanced technology vehicles, I am told by several of the companies in my state, is really struggling in the department. As a matter of fact, we heard just today that there's not much transparency. The applications are sitting there. It's not well staffed. The criteria that are used for giving the loans is not, you know, well understood.
If you could really focus on this, going forward, to increase the, you know, battery -- all those things that will go to improved conservation in the transportation arena are going to be very important. And that program needs to be well-administered, and it really hasn't been to date.
So if your folks can make a note of that, I'd love to follow up with you on that at the appropriate time. Just two or three brief questions in the few minutes that we have remaining.
I'd like to follow up on the last question that Senator Wyden asked you, about China and, you know, the importance and your stated belief that it's important, indeed essential, to include developing nations, particularly China and India, in any regime of CO2 reduction. And I think you said that the U.S. will take the first step. And hopefully China will follow. You know, we'll have to relook at it if they don't.
It's my honest conviction that that approach will not be enacted by the United States Congress. Simply trusting China to -- you know, they have their own internal needs to have high rates of growth. They've been proven to be willing to sacrifice just about any other concern to maintain that high rate of growth, to maintain domestic political stability. And they don't have a great track record frankly in abiding by some of the other agreements, particularly honoring intellectual property rights, other things.
And so a skeptic might say, we're going to be going through dislocations here that will affect our economy, consumers, other things. The American people would make great sacrifices. You'd have to really wonder about whether China would go along. And you know, people have to cast votes on these things. And that probably won't be good enough to get the job done.
So I would really and I've raised this with hopefully the secretary-to-be, currently Senator Clinton, hopefully Secretary of State Clinton, about the need to engage in robust diplomacy, before we come to Congress with a global warming initiative, because it's really going to -- we're going to need to buy in, in the front, if this thing is going to work.
Do you have any response to that?
MR. CHU: Actually I agree with that absolutely. Just you know, perhaps this would put you more at ease with what I said. As you know, I was co-chair of this report sponsored by the InterAcademy Council. That's a council that represents over a hundred academies of science around the world.
It's a report called "Lighting the Way" and how one transitions to sustainable energy. And in that report, we said quite clearly that all the countries, developed and developing countries, have to be part of the solution.
Now, and I agree that this is a touchy diplomatic, economic, multidimensional problem. And --
SEN. BAYH: Doctor, to put you -- I was not ill at ease with what you said. I simply -- this is an important issue. We both believe that. So because it's an important issue, we have to make sure it's going to work.
And without China participating, it's not going to work, and I don't think it will get enacted. And a skeptic viewing their past behavior would have to say that's going to be heavy lift. So -- in a way that is, you know, verifiable and transparent. It's just going to be very hard to get them there.
And so I think we're going to have to focus on that component early on in this process. And that's beyond your bailiwick, but since you were asked about it and responded. I was not -- I just want to emphasize that point: If we're going to get this job done, we got to focus on that. And in my estimation, it's going to be difficult, and frankly, I'm a little skeptical about whether they'll ever get there in a way that is -- you know, because of the political dynamic within their own country.
But let's give it a shot. Let's see. Let's do our best. Perhaps we can. I think it's well worth the effort.
In my 16 seconds left, I'd like to ask you -- our first hearing before this committee in the new year was on the topic of energy security. And we had a marvelous presentation and some fairly aggressive goals over the next 20 to 30 years about reducing the need to import energy into our country. One of the proposals involved the electrification of the transportation system, and there were some other good proposals as well.
Could you just share -- and I view this as one of the defining challenges of our time, and it has a great impact on global warming as well as our economy, our finances and our national security interests. Could you share with us just for a few moments here your thoughts about what we can do, what steps we can take to reduce the imports of energy to this country over the next, you know, 10 to 20 years?
MR. CHU: Well, very specifically -- as you and I both recognize, a lot of this is about oil, imported oil, efficiency, efficiency in our automobiles. We need to accelerate all efforts to develop the type of battery that the American consumer will buy in terms of plug- in hybrid cars. We do not have today the type of battery we need, quite frankly, and in the sense that these first electric hybrid cars, which are a start, don't have the energy capacity, the lifetime of the batteries that we need.
And so this is another part. So it's offload that fossil fuel dependence, imported oil onto -- you know, once you get into electricity, you have many more options. And so those two things, I think, are very important. Let's produce -- let's invent a battery technology. Let's push hard towards more fuel-efficient personal vehicles.
SEN. BAYH: I agree with that.
Mr. Chairman, thank you. And Doctor, look forward to working with you on that issue.
I do think it's one of the great challenges of our time. So thank you for your service.
And can I say one final thing, Mr. Chairman?
SEN. BINGAMAN: Mm-hmm.
SEN. BAYH: Any man that could work at both Cal-Berkeley and Stanford has to be adept at forging consensus. And Dr. Chu has done that. (Laughter.)
MR. CHU: Thank you.
SEN. BINGAMAN: All right. Senator Shaheen?
SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D-NH): Yes. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'll be brief, since I've learned that you never stand between your audience and lunch.
Dr. Chu, I want to echo what you've heard from so many people on this committee about how delighted I am that someone with your scientific and research background and credentials is going to bring those to leadership in the Cabinet. And I hope that portends a willingness of many other scientists and researchers to come and serve in the federal government.
I think what you're talking about -- particularly when we're talking about energy policy -- science and technology and research are going to be critical to addressing what we need to do to change our energy policy for the future.
I was interested in the exchange that you had with Senator Lincoln about your work in the biofuels area. As we discussed when we visited, we have some very interesting work going on in that area in New Hampshire. But we still haven't seen those fourth-generation biofuels become commercially and economically viable. So what actions could you take, as secretary of Energy, to promote moving those biofuels to become more commercially viable?
MR. CHU: First, this fourth-generation work, that has essentially just begun over the last one or two years. You accelerate in many different ways. I think it -- recognizing that it is a research program, but also, to really challenge the scientists who are working on this to keep their eye on the ball. This is -- so this is not a 10- or 20-year program. This is something we can produce, I think, to get it testing, in a few years.
And so I think, you know, we've had other experiences in times of national emergency, national need, that some of the best scientists have stepped up to the plate and said, "Yes, I was doing that, but this is of such importance that I'm going to focus on this," and really focusing on delivering solutions. And so the good news is that because of the energy security, because of the climate-change threats, of all these things, that some of the best and brightest in the country, and some of the best and brightest students in the country, want to work on this.
So this is something one can work with. You want to unleash some funds to start some support -- graduate work, retraining at a post- doctoral of some of the best and brightest who might have been trained in a traditional field of chemistry or physics who say, "I want to work on energy, but I want to be able to retrain." And so things like that, you know, direct -- working with universities, national labs and industry.
There are a lot of exciting start-up companies that are -- you know, it seems every week I learn of another one and what they're doing. I think the Department of Energy has to find a means of encouraging that work. It's -- we don't know where the solutions will come from, but I do know that they will come from the best and brightest intellects that we have in this country.
SEN. SHAHEEN: And are there other policy changes that you would recommend we look at as a Congress to move that forward?
MR. CHU: Well, I think we already have some policies that are creating the proper draw, like the fraction of our fuel that would be going towards something other than conventional oil. I think, you know, a clean carbon standard for our fuels is something that will actually draw this much more quickly.
And so policies like that are good stimulus, good draws to encourage the investment in the new companies and the investment in the research in national laboratories and universities.
SEN. SHAHEEN: Thank you.
SEN. BINGAMAN: Dr. Chu, thank you very much for being so generous with your time. We will do all we can to move ahead your nomination and get it through the full Senate. And we wish you well in your new position.
That will conclude the hearing and the hearing is adjourned.
MR. CHU: Thank you.