Democratic News

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) welcomed increases in a number of Department of Energy (DOE) programs in the President’s Budget Request for FY 2009 today, while questioning other omissions that diminished the contribution of the new budget to overall U.S. energy and economic security.

Bingaman is chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which has principal responsibility for the DOE.  Bingaman has called Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman to testify on DOE’s budget before the committee on Wednesday at 10 a.m. in Dirksen 366.  This will be the DOE’s first budget hearing before Congress this year.
 
“I am pleased to see overall growth in the DOE budget, particularly in the area of basic research as a result of our passage last year of the America COMPETES Act.   A number of energy technology programs are also seeing strong growth, in response to the passage of the Energy Independence and Security Act last year, as well.  But the decision to zero out the Department’s weatherization funding to the States is completely wrongheaded, and I will work vigorously to reverse this decision,” Bingaman said.
 
The President’s budget request would increase total DOE spending by 4.7 percent over the level in the current fiscal year, to a total of $25.0 billion.  Of this total, $9.1 billion would be budgeted to the nuclear weapons missions of the Department, another $6.2 billion would be devoted to environmental cleanup and radioactive waste management, $4.7 billion would go to basic science, and $3.9 billion would go to energy supply and energy efficiency programs.

While the $3.9 billion proposed for energy activities represents a nearly 25 percent increase in this category over the past two years, much of the increase was added by Congress last year, for priorities that differ in a number of important respects from those in the new budget proposal. 
  • A key difference is the Administration’s proposal to zero out funding of DOE’s weatherization programs from their currently appropriated level of over $220 million.  The weatherization assistance program increases the energy efficiency of dwellings occupied by low-income Americans, thus directly reducing their energy costs.  This is important, as energy costs account for about 13 percent of the household budgets of low-income families, compared to 3.5 percent or less for all other Americans.  With energy costs rising significantly, and an economy poised on recession, the weatherization program is more needed than ever, and the funds already appropriated by Congress for fiscal year 2008 will pay for upgrades to 85,000 low-income dwellings.  “It’s hard to fathom why this program is being terminated by the DOE now – a lot of households need help reducing their energy bills, and the work of insulating their homes creates residential construction jobs that are greatly needed right now, too,” Bingaman stated.  “I am working to get weatherization funding for an additional 77,000 dwellings into the economic stimulus package before the Senate, so the program can help over 162,000 households this year.  I will certainly urge my colleagues to reverse DOE’s ill-timed budget cut for fiscal year 2009.”

  • The Administration’s proposal once again zeroes out all research and development (R&D) relating to oil and natural gas, and proposes to repeal $50 million in guaranteed funding outside the regular budget for onshore natural gas exploration.  This leaves coal as the only fossil fuel on which DOE now proposes to carry out any research.  “This Administration has a real blind spot when it comes to developing new domestic natural gas resources.  The gas that is most available to the consumers who need it is located onshore, and the key players in developing it are independent oil and gas producers.  They aren’t big enough to have R&D departments that undertake the research needed to keep our natural gas supplies robust.  If DOE walks away from the R&D needed to keep natural gas flowing in an economic and environmentally responsible manner, then consumers will pay through higher prices and working families will pay through loss of manufacturing jobs that depend on natural gas.  This is another short-sighted decision that I hope the Congresses reverses.” Bingaman said.

  • Bingaman questioned the continued diversion of oil from tight world markets into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.  The new budget request states that this diversion of the government’s royalty oil will continue, despite the fact that it is likely adding to upward pressure on oil prices.  “We need to investigate the effects of this diversion more closely.  I will be calling a hearing later this month to examine the rationale and effects of the government competing with refineries for the highest quality crude oil,” Bingaman said.

  • The new Administration budget also cuts funding for solar energy research, hydropower, and industrial energy efficiency.  “If American energy-intensive industries, and the jobs they provide, are to prosper in a future in which we impose a cost on carbon dioxide, we need to act aggressively now to position them as global leaders in energy efficiency of all kinds,” Bingaman said.  “It’s a bad time to be rolling back this societal investment in our future high-wage jobs.”

Bingaman was pleased by a number of funding increases in the budget, notably a reversal in the pattern of cuts in recent years for geothermal energy.  “Here is one area in which Congress’s action to reposition the DOE geothermal program, in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, has paid off.  I’m pleased that the program is being supported with a 50 percent increase,” said Bingaman.
 
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