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Five Takeaways from Brouillette’s Hill Appearance


Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette largely dodged controversy yesterday in his first appearance on Capitol Hill since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic that has ravaged energy sector jobs.

Brouillette offered insight into high-profile issues at the Department of Energy as the agency looks to enact a host of Trump administration priorities.

Here are some takeaways from Brouillette’s testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee:

Energy efficiency

Brouillette pledged that the department would complete as many energy efficiency updates as possible before the end of the year.

His promise came as Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) complained that DOE has fallen “ridiculously far behind” on meeting legal deadlines to update efficiency standards for appliances.

“This is almost hard to believe, but DOE has now missed 26 statutory deadlines,” Pallone said, noting that the department had missed just three before President Trump took office.

Pallone said DOE appeared to be putting most of its resources into “purely discretionary rulemakings, some of which seem designed to undercut — rather than promote — energy savings.”

Brouillette promised that the department would move as many rules as it could before the end of the year, noting that this year, it has published 18 notices on conservation standards and issued nine rules — “three times more than in 2018.”

The secretary said, “We are beginning to make some real progress, and we will move as aggressively as we can.”

He later noted that it is important to balance energy savings with cost: “We agree with the energy efficiency goals,” he said, adding, “But it doesn’t do us much good to save $2 on the electric bill if it’s going to cost us many thousands of dollars to buy the new appliance.”

Brouillette said there are possible energy efficiency savings within the federal government, as well, noting that he recently spotted several “badly outdated” solar panels on the roof of DOE headquarters that he’d like to replace.

Pipelines

House Republicans spent part of their time bemoaning the regulatory hurdles facing natural gas and oil pipelines following high-profile pipeline project defeats.

With issues affecting the viability of the Dakota Access pipeline and the outright cancellation of the Atlantic Coast pipeline, Brouillette had previously blamed radical environmentalists for the projects’ problems.

Rep. Dave Mckinley (R-W.Va.) asked a series of questions tying the deployment of pipeline infrastructure to national security concerns.

Brouillette largely agreed with the national security worries raised by McKinley, but he stopped short of railing against opponents of the pipelines.

McKinley told Brouillette, “But the environmental left doesn’t seem to agree with you.”

Brouillette said he has directed the department to streamline environmental permitting by accepting any previously conducted environmental reviews from other agencies to reduce redundancy.

“If they’ve done the work once, there’s no need for DOE to do a second analysis,” Brouillette said on National Environmental Policy Act reform efforts.

“Eliminating that step will save an enormous amount of money for the applicants who are looking to build these export facilities. It’s one small example, but a step in the right direction.”

When asked about where he sees a need for guidance or help for pipeline policies, Brouillette pointed not to the regulatory battles but to beefing up cybersecurity resources and protections.

“If I have a concern about pipelines in America today, it is perhaps with regard to some of the smaller members of the industry,” he told Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.).

“They simply in some cases just don’t have the resources that are needed to protect the infrastructure in the manner in which we’d like to see it protected.”

Hiring and diversity

Brouillette pledged that the department would deliver a report on energy sector employment on time, with Energy Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) noting that the annual “Energy and Employment Report” is “now needed more than ever.”

Rush said Congress last December put in $1.7 million for the sixth annual report and noted that data collection should begin in September.

The chairman called the report an essential resource for information about the energy sector workforce, including unemployment numbers and representation of minority workers.

Brouillette said he had spoken with former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz about the report over the weekend and said it was the department’s “commitment to you that we are going to continue to provide this kind of data.”

Brouillette said the department had fallen behind because of the coronavirus pandemic but that the final report should be submitted by the end of the year.

And Brouillette said the department has boosted its minority recruitment efforts, revising a program to include underserved communities in all sectors.

He said the new focus has improved the department’s numbers. In fiscal 2017, 17% of new hires were members of a minority group, and in fiscal 2020, 31% of new hires were members of a minority group, he said.

Brouillette also pledged to improve staffing in the energy efficiency division, noting that he was “not happy with the answers” as to why the department has been slow to fill positions.

Brouillette said he was told that simple steps like providing employees with badges were taking too much time, and the department had lost candidates with specialized skills to private competitors.

“It’s disheartening and disappointing, and we’ve taken steps to address very simple measures like that,” he said.

He was pressed on the administration’s support for fossil fuels by Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.), who said Black and Hispanic communities have been adversely affected by air pollution.

“If you haven’t noticed, there are protesters all across this country right now demanding justice, and that includes environmental justice,” Barragán said, asking Brouillette several times if he believed in environmental racism or injustice.

“I believe that there are communities that are perhaps disproportionately impacted; I just don’t understand what you mean by the term environmental racism,” Brouillette said.

Barragán said she plans to follow up with Brouillette.

Budget concerns

The hearing provided House lawmakers a bipartisan opportunity to pile on against a provision in the Senate’s fiscal 2021 defense authorization bill that would change how DOE oversees its budgetary process for nuclear weapons.

Pallone, ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Brouillette all expressed opposition to the proposal.

Such a policy, the trio agreed, would undercut the Energy secretary’s oversight of nearly half of DOE’s annual budget.

“This wrongheaded effort threatens the important, long-standing principle of the civilian — not military — control over the nuclear weapons stockpile,” Pallone said. “It also stands to upend other non-nuclear weapons aspects of the DOE budget.”

In response to questions from Walden, Brouillette warned that changes to his control of the budget process could have cascading effects on other DOE cleanup work related to the weapons program.

“Our duty on this committee and in Congress is to make sure the secretary has the tools and authorities he needs to execute the department’s missions,” Walden said. “Our goal is to maximize the benefits of the DOE enterprise for the nation.”

Following an outcry, the Senate softened the provision in question, directing DOE only to consider the advice of the Nuclear Weapons Council in forming its budget request.

Security

Brouillette updated lawmakers on the status of DOE’s implementation of the executive order to protect the bulk power grid from foreign intrusions.

While the order largely received praise from both sides of the aisle, Pallone expressed concern about some confusion related to the order. Pallone also wondered how much of the power system could be affected by any further action by DOE.

“With the prohibitions on acquiring and installing this equipment already in place, there is a pressing need for guidance for energy projects, many of which depend on complex supply chains,” Pallone said.

Brouillette outlined the department’s efforts as more focused on developing a list of prequalified vendors that utilities could purchase parts from as well as making recommendations on ways to better support the grid to protect it from foreign interference.

The effort is only focused on the bulk power system, not the distribution network, he added.

“We want to alleviate the industry of any anxiety they might have about this as we move forward with a proposed rule this year,” Brouillette said.



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