Republicans today questioned Energy Secretary Steven Chu on the significant "clean energy" spending increases represented in the President's fiscal year 2012 budget request for the Department of Energy (DOE).
The President has proposed a new requirement that the U.S. produce 80 percent of its electricity from "clean" sources by 2035. Given the struggling economy and need to cut federal spending, Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) criticized the President's "double-down" on his energy and climate agenda and questioned the costs and benefits of the proposed clean energy standard (CES).
"While I want to better understand how the Administration intends to reach this goal, and while I strongly support an "all-of-the-above' approach to energy security, I'm concerned that this plan entails spending we can't afford and taxes and regulations that would raise the cost of energy and harm our economy," Hall said. "The merits of this proposal seem weakened further by the fact that, even if such a transition to "clean' electricity were successful, its benefits in terms of the effect it could have on climate change appears negligible."
When Chairman Hall asked Secretary Chu about the cost of the proposed CES, Chu conceded that he doesn't know how much it will cost in terms of taxpayer spending as well as higher electricity prices for consumers. Following up, Hall asked what the affect on the climate would be if the President's goal were achieved. Chu mentioned the CES proposal could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but would not assert whether it would have a noticeable impact on climate change efforts.
Chairman Hall also raised concerns regarding misplaced research and development (R&D) policy priorities. The President proposes zeroing out the Natural Gas and Unconventional Fossil Energy Technologies programs, while energy efficiency and renewable energy (EERE) R&D programs would receive a 44 percent increase above current levels. This increase is in addition to over $16 billion in Stimulus funding.
"The fossil fuels that drive our economy and meet over 80 percent of our energy needs continue to be penalized," Hall noted.
Republicans also criticized the use of DOE taxpayer dollars in funding an advertising campaign that incorporates the Disney character, "Tinkerbell," encouraging children to tell their parents to take energy-saving steps such as increasing use of energy-efficient appliances. In response to questioning, Chu stated he did not have any empirical evidence that such advertising efforts impact energy usage
While there were considerable differences of opinion represented today, a few areas of bipartisan agreement included: the need to get more nuclear power plants online in the U.S., a need for nuclear energy R&D to develop and manufacture small modular reactors, and a need to pursue clean coal technologies.