WASHINGTON — Republicans and Democrats denounced President Donald Trump’s proposed energy budget Thursday, and even Trump’s energy secretary distanced himself from a plan that would slash funding for energy efficiency, renewable energy and basic science. The proposal also would eliminate popular programs such as research for advanced energy technologies.
As senators condemned the budget at a hearing, Energy Secretary Rick Perry made it clear he did not have a say on the request submitted to Congress.
The $28 billon proposal “was written before I got here,” Perry told the Senate energy panel. “My job is to defend it.”
Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota compared Perry to a defense attorney for a murder suspect: “I know he’s guilty, but I’m going to give him a robust defense.”
Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said Perry was on “a suicide mission” to “defend the indefensible.” King, a former governor, said the energy proposal was “perhaps the worst budget for any agency” he’s ever seen. “This is a nonscience budget.”
Senate Energy Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said Trump’s proposal was likely to be overhauled.
“The United States is the world leader in science and energy. We like it that way and we want to keep it that way,” she said, adding that “the core of that excellence is the work done at our national laboratories.” The Office of Science, which oversees 10 of the 17 national labs, would see a 17 percent cut under Trump’s plan.
While she appreciates the administration’s effort to balance the budget, “that cannot come at the expense of our efforts on energy innovation,” Murkowski said.
Murkowski’s comments echoed Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Energy Appropriations panel, who called the national labs “our secret weapon for innovation research that leads to better jobs and higher family incomes in our country.”
Alexander, whose state is home to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Y-12 national security complex, said at a hearing Wednesday that the federal budget can’t be balanced “on the backs of national labs, national parks, National Institutes of Health.”
Alexander called the energy request “especially bad” and said Congress would reject Trump’s call to eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, which supports research into new energy technologies.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., chided Perry for trying to “do nuclear clean-up on the cheap.” Specifically, she said a budget plan for the Hanford nuclear complex in Washington state was grossly inadequate and driven by White House budget officials who “know nothing about science.” Hanford, the largest U.S. site of waste from nuclear weapons production, is in the midst of a decadeslong clean-up with an annual budget of $2.3 billion.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., slammed the administration’s proposal to revive the long-stalled nuclear waste dump at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain. The state’s Republican governor and lawmakers from both parties oppose the plan.
While Perry took office saying he had not decided on the issue, he now is in “full-throated support” of a plan to store nuclear waste in Nevada “against the will of the people in my state,” Cortez Masto said.
Perry said he understands the political opposition but added that the U.S. has a “moral obligation” to find a long-term solution to store spent fuel from its commercial nuclear fleet.
“This is a sensitive topic for some, but we can no longer kick the can down the road,” Perry said, noting that a stalemate over Yucca Mountain has stretched over more than three decades and six presidential administrations. Trump’s budget would spend $120 million to restart a licensing process for the mothballed repository.