February 13, 2017
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) on February 13 said he has named Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) to lead an effort on the reauthorization of the Department of Energy that will include a comprehensive review of DOE’s missions.
The reauthorization effort is part of congressional plans to ensure that federal agencies are well-equipped to carrying out their missions while also guarding against “regulatory creep,” Walden said in speaking to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners’ (NARUC) winter meetings in Washington.
Regulatory Creep. Regulatory creep can result in too much regulation when legislation hasn’t changed and technology has advanced in the industries monitored by federal agencies, Walden said.
As a Texas native with an engineering background, Barton is a good person to partner with new DOE Secretary and former Texas Governor Rick Perry to examine whether reforms are needed at DOE, Walden said. “Joe will spearhead this” and work with DOE staff and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the Energy Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Walden said.
The review will include an examination of DOE’s nuclear waste management program, the lack of a national repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, and the possibility of authorizing an interim storage facility for nuclear waste, Walden said. “The challenges are massive,” he said, commending NARUC for its successful court challenge of DOE collecting nuclear waste fees from utility ratepayers.
“We need a 21st century DOE,” Walden told the NARUC audience.
After his comments, Walden told The Foster Report that he knows President Donald Trump wants a thorough review of regulatory agencies, including the Federal Communication Commission and others. He expects the DOE review to last at least through the current congressional session, or about two years, he said.
DOE National Labs. Among those speaking on a panel after Walden’s remarks was Chris Crane, president and CEO of Exelon Corp., who mentioned DOE’s work among its national laboratories aiding electric utilities on cybersecurity and physical security issues. Crane said he hopes Barton and the DOE review process will understand the important work being done at the DOE national labs that provide a benefit to utilities and the nation.
There have been media reports of the Trump administration possibly cutting DOE’s budget significantly or scaling back the level of work it does in certain areas, some of which Perry addressed during his Senate confirmation hearing.
Much of the DOE budget is tied to nuclear weapons management and nuclear waste issues, but there is a lot of innovative work being done at the DOE labs, said Dave McCurdy, president and CEO of the American Gas Association. That work may continue in some form but may be part of a different structure if there is a change in DOE as a result of the review and reauthorization effort, McCurdy said in a brief interview.
McCurdy, who worked with Barton when he was in Congress, said he believes Barton will do a thorough review, and he hopes that the reauthorization effort may address research and development (R&D) funding for the natural gas sector. There is not a sufficient level of R&D funding from DOE on end-use technologies in the gas sector, which provide benefits to the nation, McCurdy said.
FERC. During Walden’s speech, he said it is essential that the Trump administration and the Senate get new commissioners in place at FERC to address the lack of a quorum at the agency.
Walden also emphasized having policymakers in Washington work with states and cooperating with them on issues such as pipeline safety, infrastructure development and environmental regulations, rather than the top-down approach under the administration of former President Barack Obama.
“It’s time to bring the power back to the people and the states,” and for Washington to stop picking winners and losers, Walden said.
In Congress, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will focus on infrastructure development, new technologies and helping consumers manage their energy consumption, Walden said, noting that there is a subcommittee hearing on the issue.
That hearing, scheduled for February 15, is titled Modernizing Energy and Electricity Delivery Systems: Challenges and Opportunities to Promote Infrastructure Improvement and Expansion.
By Tom Tiernan TTiernan@fosterreport.com