Some Tough Questions for Rick Perry at DOE Budget Hearing

June 19, 2017 | 10:04 am
Photo: Michael Vadon/Wikimedia
Rob Cowin
Former Contributor

UPDATE (June 19, 3:00 PM): Secretary Perry appeared this morning on CNBC’s Squawkbox and questioned whether CO2 was the main factor driving climate change. He instead said that it’s most likely “the ocean waters and this environment that we live in” (whatever that means).  The secretary went on to say, “This idea that science is just absolutely settled, and if you don’t believe it’s settled, then you’re … somehow or another a Neanderthal. That is so inappropriate, from my perspective.”

Beyond slandering Neanderthals, the secretary is communicating incorrect and inaccurate science, and abusing his position by publicly asserting that human activity isn’t the overwhelming cause of climate change. Why is the head of a science-based agency like DOE making these kinds of false statements about basic science? Is it because he’s misinformed and doesn’t know any better? Or because climate change is inconvenient for the administration’s support of  fossil fuels? One of these is vastly more likely than the other, but either way—through incompetence or special interest—Secretary Perry is subjugating science at the expense of the public interest. For more, please see today’s statement from UCS President Ken Kimmell.


Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Rick Perry is set to appear before the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee on Tuesday to talk about the administration’s fiscal year 2018 budget request.

Once the hearing begins, perhaps Chairman Simpson (R-ID) should start by asking the secretary, given the extremeness of the administration’s proposed cuts, does he in fact now feel that he has accomplished his mission of eliminating the DOE. While this event promises a few laughs, the secretary will also hear some harsh words from members of both parties for whom the administration’s DOE budget proposal is a non-starter.

A deeper look into the Trump DOE budget reveals a war on renewable energy, cuts to our national labs, and reduced capacity for federal R&D, science, and innovation.

Here’s what the appropriators should focus on…

The administration is going after clean energy

The administration is trying to gut our nation’s federal work on renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable transportation, proposing almost a 70% cut to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). They also propose to cut between 64–80% of the clean energy infrastructure work at the Office of Electricity Delivery and Reliability (OE). They propose to eliminate ARPA-E, our nation’s early stage clean energy research and development program. They propose eliminating DOE’s clean energy loan guarantee program as well.

This DOE budget essentially pluses up National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), takes a scalpel to the Office of Science, and takes a machete to DOE energy programs, most specifically, clean energy programs.

The cuts to EERE in particular were so extreme, all seven former assistant secretaries of EERE (from 1989 – 2017) sent a letter to appropriators and Secretary Perry earlier this month, warning that the cuts would cripple the office’s work and undermine America’s competitive advantage in clean energy research and development.

Unlike his confirmation hearing back in January, where the Secretary touted his record of support for wind energy as Texas Governor, he can’t hide from these budget numbers:


On top of these numbers, some of the actions taken early into Secretary Perry’s leadership appear to undermine clean energy momentum; like the recently announced grid study that many people, including prominent Republicans, are saying is biased against renewables. Or the recent announcement that DOE is dismantling their Office of International Climate and Technology, which was doing important work on international clean energy technology exchange and policy.

So there’s clearly a troubling pattern on clean energy early in the administration, and the appropriators should drill down on that with the secretary.

Please don’t hurt our national labs

At his January senate confirmation hearing, Secretary Perry called our national labs “the repository of some of the extraordinary brilliance in the world,” and he pledged to defend and support our national labs and our capacity for science and technological innovation. But the administration’s budget reflects just the opposite.

Flow of US/SE Program Funding to National Laboratories (FY 2014 enacted). Source: DOE

One third of all EERE’s budget goes to the national labs, so a 70% cut not only hurts those folks in Golden, CO at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, it also hurts folks at other labs, like Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), which received $117 million from EERE in FY 2015 alone.

DOE’s Office of Science, the nation’s largest sponsor of the physical sciences (it manages 10 of the 17 national laboratories), would see its budget cut by 17% under the Trump proposal.

The administration’s proposed 31% cut to the Office of Nuclear Energy is really going to hurt folks at the Idaho National Laboratory, and people are already sounding alarm bells. And the proposed 58% cut to the Office of Fossil Energy would cripple West Virginia’s National Energy Technology Laboratory. Most of the national labs are involved in the important grid and infrastructure work being done at OE and the innovative clean energy R&D work at ARPA-E as well.

Appropriators know that no matter what DOE office or program you cut, critical work and thousands of jobs are on the line at the national labs.

Also on the line? Our nation’s scientific and technological priorities, and credibility.

Do you or don’t you …support an efficient, secure, reliable grid?

The Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (OE) works to strengthen, transform, and improve energy infrastructure. It works with industry, the national labs, and government partners to help modernize the electric grid and increase the resilience of electric infrastructure.

At his confirmation hearing in January, Ranking Member Cantwell (D-WA) asked Mr. Perry about the work of the Office of Electricity; if he understood “that office’s capabilities on storage, on cyber, on transforming the grid, on all of those things and are committed to that office.” To which Mr. Perry replied “most important aspects of the agency,” and said that “those functions that are under that agency, there is great support in general for that.”

And yet the administration’s FY18 budget request cuts the office by almost half, and more specifically, it seems to target transmission and reliability, smart grid R&D, and energy storage for the deepest cuts; from 64–80%, essentially decimating the office’s work.

The appropriators need to ask the secretary to explain the contradiction here. Why would we be cutting support for work that makes our grid more efficient, affordable, reliable, and less vulnerable at a time when cyber threats and threats from extreme weather are increasing?