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Public Statements

Department of Energy Budget Request

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

SEN. LARRY CRAIG (R-ID): Mr. Chairman, thank you. Mr. Secretary, welcome before the committee. Several questions that I was going to ask have been asked. Let me express to you the same concern that the chairman has spoken to of the physical sciences and our lack of funding versus the biological sciences. I understand the politics, and I think you explained it well. At the same time, we will begin to lag, if we have not already begun, in the physical sciences, and the Department of Energy has that great opportunity to invest in them through our national laboratory system in a way that probably no other agency has. And I am committed now to, if you will, stabilizing the growth in NIH. We are seeing the results of that. We are funding most of those research programs today. We are getting yield. Now it's time to redirect ourselves back to the physical sciences. I hope you wouldn't run from that—I know you won't—certainly I won't, and I think a good many other of our senators will. We have heard Senator Alexander speak to it.

In dealing with that, and in dealing with research, I am looking at my laboratory and what can get done there and what should be done there, and the reality of '03 and '04 budgets. You came to us with an '03 budget—requested an $18 million level. And I am talking specifically about nuclear research funding. Senator Domenici and I worked to lift that research to 58 million (dollars). That's still 20 million short below last year's level. We are contemplating, or we may have to contemplate, layoffs. And that—before we get to the '04 funding. That would be a complication and an inability once again to stabilize. You hire people and then you remove them, and then you want to hire them back later on—the instability of budgets and consistencies are awfully important. I would hate to see Argonne West have to do that at a time when you're advancing, as you and I and others have agreed, a nuclear agenda for this country. You don't dispose and then bring back. You try to stabilize and grow that, and certainly that's one area. So I have not been shy about this, nor the next generation concept of nuclear reactor design and the development of that. The president has spoken to that certainly. And if you are interested in a hydrogen economy, you have got to be committed to a nuclear program. They do go hand in glove—much more so I think than most people realize. And so I do appreciate the beginning effort, the advanced fuel cycle and all of that. We are going to try to advance that very aggressively here, because they do work cooperatively together, and I appreciate that.

Senator Bingaman asked the question as it relates to the zeroing out of research in NEM. You know, we are unique as a laboratory system in our country. For example, we have got a waste stream in Idaho called the high level waste, the calcine process found nowhere else in DOE. And yet we really don't have the technologies that are proven to get rid of it or to handle it effectively. And yet we're zeroing that out. I would hope that we could reinvest a bit in that research, because in the clean-up process there is a lot we know and a lot we can get done, and I applaud you for your acceleration of it. I think that's extremely important downstream as it relates to resource allocation, but also as it relates to clean-up.

But we also have pieces of that clean-up that we don't understand all that well, that will require some research, and that is a complication that I think we are going to have to deal with.

So I guess my one question would be: How will DOE invest in the research that we will need to complete the clean-up?

SEN. CRAIG: Senator, thank you. Mr. Secretary, you heard Senator Akaka talk about methane hydrate's research. That legislation that passed three years ago. He and I were the principle sponsors of. We think it is important. We think it does have potential, deserves some investment. You know, when we began to pump, and you were a part of putting fixed amounts in the terms of billions of dollars into the NIH, and we all did that with all the right reasons and are beginning to see the results, as relates to the biological sciences and human health, and all of that, and certainly you mentioned genome and the role that DOE has played. But when it comes to advancing research dollars into the physical sciences, the Chairman is right: It's really the natural base is our laboratory, and to give them flexibility. NIH had the natural system and the team to dole out the dollars to the research applications and to screen them and to have some measure of value to them, we do that—we don't have that mechanism if you will for the physical sciences in the way that they do, and yet at the same time you are hearing it here and it's growing in the Congress. A sense that we are underinvesting in that area. And that's where we can have probably the greatest impact.

Some of this concern that I think all of us have about energy is we ought to get out of the way of the market and let it work and give it more flexibility in certain areas where the government doesn't play a dominant role. We play a dominant role in nuclear. We don't in a variety of the other areas. But we have created a phenomenal impediment.

I sat down with the mining industry yesterday to see their phenomenal decline since 1993, when an administration decided to force them off the public lands. And so we're going into the foreign sources for our metals, much like we had to do with oil—with hydrocarbons—simply because it was an attitude in this country. That we can correct by stepping back and stepping out of the way, if you will, with reasonable side boards for environmental concerns, but reasonable ones. And certainly that advances that.

We know that LDRD is the approach that we have had here in the physical sciences. Your advocacy of that, I think, would be tremendously helpful in allowing some flexibility there. Senator Feinstein and I will reintroduce Fusion Energy Science Act again this year. We'll update it to include the initiatives you've talked about in it. Potentially that might be incorporated in the new energy policy that I trust this Congress can pass this year.

You know, at some point the public is going to grow awfully weary of energy spikes and cost run-ups when they know that this Congress has simply failed to advance the market and failed to create the initiatives out of the politics of a Congress that would not allow that to happen. And I hope we can overcome that this year.

Let me go back to some of my parochial concerns. A question to you: A commitment, Mr. Secretary, to work with me to offset the impacts of '03 budgets as we move to build an '04 base out there as it relates specifically to the kind of research in E&M and in other areas that both Senator Bingaman spoke to, Senator Domenici and I have.

SEN. CRAIG: Well, we don't want to—if you kill the program before our initiatives get there, and I think we are running that risk at this moment if we're not careful.

The chairman expressed his concern as it relates to Yucca Mountain and legislation and scoring. Mr. Secretary, would you like to explain for the committee your proposal and the need for it?

SEN. CRAIG: Well, I appreciate your willingness to try to do that. And certainly I think all of us are extremely interested in that. I've always been. I think all of us are frustrated about the funds that are collected or trust funds that are established and tucked inside the general fund of our government and then, if you will, used as leverage or offset against other expenditures. "Well, we can't spend the money there because it's offsetting something somewhere else, even though there is a need." And certainly the collection was a commitment for that purpose.

My time is up. We've been joined by Senator Wyden. Senator, do you have any questions?

SEN. CRAIG: Senator, thank you. A couple of concluding questions, Mr. Secretary. We've held you a good long while, and we appreciate your presence. I reflect some of the concern that my colleague from Oregon does. Idaho is about to start farming. And with these increased fuel costs, it is going to be an expensive agricultural year in Idaho.

And while I've been out in the state the last week, I've talked about "Darned if you are and darned if you don't." If we could have had two markets and you could have freed up supply into one and kept it restricted in another, maybe we could have priced it out in a way that we would have been able to determine for Senator Wyden whether your wisdom is good or bad. I don't think we have that kind of a market.

I think we also have (restricted?) refinery capacity that also creates this problem when we have an overload of fuel demand in the Northeast because of the cold winter. Put that all together, the perfect storm hasn't quite come, but it certainly does drive up price. And consumers are frustrated; there's no question about it.

So there's probably a no-win proposition when Congress continues to spin its wheels, as it has for the last 24 months, and its inability to produce a national energy policy for this country. So your urgency there, the president's urgency in pushing us toward that, to overcome our political stupidity to get there, is going to be awfully critical in the coming months. I think we have an opportunity to get there, and your attempting that is going to be most helpful.

SEN. CRAIG: My last question to you, Mr. Secretary. While I'm out in the state and across the country, it is unique the number of people who are coming up to me with devices and interests and concepts and ideas that relate to homeland security in an effort to see if I can't get them in to visit with the new secretary of Homeland Security, because certainly what they have will make the world a safer place.

What they recognize is a very large pot of money that is sitting there, or will be ultimately utilized by the Department of Homeland Security. Congress also recognized that, and Congress directed the Department of Homeland Security to utilize DOE national labs to carry out the security research agenda.

My question to you: As Secretary Ridge begins to put in place the contractual mechanism to do work at DOE labs, I will be pushing to ensure that the labs, such as Idaho and others, have an opportunity to participate in an equal sense. Can I get your pledge to strongly support those efforts and actually to advance that agenda with the secretary?
SEN. CRAIG: Lastly—and I say this only as a comment in passing, because your mission relates to standard market design and FERC—there are a good many of us on this committee that take that issue very seriously and are extremely frustrated at this moment by the chairman of FERC and where he's headed with that.

We're not restructuring an industry to create a super-regulatory agency at the federal level. That is an even more restrictive agency than certainly the dynamics of state utility commissions or agencies, and your observation and analysis of that. And I think, as the chairman spoke, the independence of that review will be extremely valuable to this committee and to the Senate and the Congress as a whole.

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