Murkowski Questions Need for Increases to Energy Department Budget

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today made the following opening statement at the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the Energy Department budget for fiscal year 2012:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I’m pleased to be here today as we gather to organize the Committee for the 112th Congress and hold our first hearing as a reorganized entity.

“I’d like to welcome the Senators who are returning from last Congress, as well as our unusually high number of new members.

“Those making committee assignments told me that Energy and Natural Resources was a very popular choice, and I believe that is a tribute to our long history as a place where things get done.

“In fact, it is appropriate that our first official act with the Committee’s new members is to hear from Secretary Chu regarding the Department of Energy’s proposed budget.

“I believe we can all agree that, while the challenge of providing our nation with abundant, affordable, clean, domestic energy is great, there are an almost endless number of technologies that might, someday, lead us to that goal.

“During this Congress, I’m sure this Committee will have a chance to consider many different proposals for new programs that might very well be a good idea – if time and money were unlimited. Unfortunately, both our time and money are now scarce.

“Like just about every member of this committee, I’m deeply concerned about federal spending. To rein in federal spending, we will need to look at every program – at every agency – and the Department of Energy is no exception. This year’s budget includes approximately $30 billion in spending for DOE, roughly 25 percent more than just five years ago.

“This is on top of a tremendous amount of funding for DOE in the 2009 stimulus bill. Nearly all of those funds have now been “obligated”. But DOE has also reported one of the slowest spend-outs of any federal agency. As of yesterday, the Department’s own website showed that more than $21 billion, or 65 percent, of its stimulus funding remains to actually be spent.

“To put this in perspective, $21 billion would have been almost 90% of DOE’s total budget three years ago. And that doesn’t factor in the $3.5 billion taken away from DOE last Congress to help pay for Cash for Clunkers and the State Aid bill.

“This brings up one of my disappointments with this budget request: even though DOE has grown significantly in recent years – and even though it still has billions of dollars in stimulus funds – it is once again in line for a sizeable increase.

“I share the desire to promote clean energy technologies, but given the urgent need to make tough budget decisions. We need to draw a distinction between the programs we want to fund and the programs we need to fund – and I am not entirely convinced this budget request will move us in that direction.

“Finding policies that will move us toward our energy goals, within the budget constraints that we face, is an enormous challenge, but it certainly is not insurmountable one.

“One of the best ways to ensure we can make continued progress – on items within the budget and legislation that comes before us – is to make sure they are fully paid for. And when it comes to energy policy, one of the best ways to do that is to harness our own abundant resources, and then apply the revenues to help develop more advanced technologies.

“I look forward to the fresh ideas and enthusiasm of our new and existing members as we move forward in the face of this new reality.”