Spend More on Energy

By Libby Casey

Despite sober warnings by President Obama that federal spending must be reigned in, he actually wants to boost funding for the Energy Department.

The new budget blueprint would give it more than $29-Billion, nearly a 12 percent increase from current appropriation levels.

But it would eliminate subsidies to oil companies and dramatically cut the budget for fossil fuel energy by 45 percent.

That’s not sitting well with Alaska’s Congressional delegation, which fears it will hurt the oil and gas industry.

Wednsday, Energy Secretary Steven Chu testified before the Senate Energy Committee, where Lisa Murkowski is the top Republican.  Chu talked about the President’s goal of having 80 percent of America’s electricity coming from “clean energy” by 2035.  That includes natural gas and hydro power, good news for Alaska.  But Murkowski pointed out that other forms of energy are getting more financial support.

Wind is getting 60-percent, solar an almost 88-percent increase, biomass 57-percent, geothermal 135-percent.  Massive budget increases in terms of their categories.  But you look to some of the others — hydro power, which we pay partucular attention to in Alaska,  cut by twenty percent,  nuclear power decreases slightly, point-6 percent.  Nuclear waste not addressed. All funding for natural gas technologies are zeroed out.

Secretary Chu responded that natural gas and hydropower are part of the Clean Energy Standard the White House wants to pursue, but he says fossil fuels are considered “mature” technologies, and received plenty of money in decades past.  He says the real need for funding is in renewables like solar and wind that are cutting edge.

Quite frankly there’s a world race to get to those improvements.  Whether it’s going to be by the end of this decade, or perhaps a few years further, there’s a significant chance solar energy will be competitive without any subsidy with fossil fuel.  The country or the companies that develop that technology will have a worldwide market.  And so we see these as putting investments in the new technologies that we think ultimately will be the new technologies of the future.

Murkowski was not satisfied however, and stood by her concern that energy sources like natural gas are getting short-shrift.

But it does appear just looking at the budget categories that the administration is clearly picking those winners, and designating losers.

The budget laid out by Secretary Chu is just a proposal, and will be hashed out by Congress in the coming weeks.

After the committee meeting, Senator Murkowski journeyed to the White House to talk with President Obama.  Her spokesman says the Senator asked to meet with the President on, quote “a range of Alaskan issues.”  He would not be more specific, and would not say what the Senator’s reaction was.

Murkowski is seen as a Senator the White House wants to court on energy issues.


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