DOE, Interior Requests Vetted by Senate Energy Panel

Concerns about doubling the size of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and making room for a new energy bill headlined the Senate Energy Committee's "views and estimates" of the Bush administration's fiscal 2008 budget proposal, which was released yesterday.

"We will need to look closely at the need for a larger reserve, its cost, its impact on world markets, and its effect on oil and gasoline prices, before we authorize any such [SPR] expansion," Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and ranking member Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) said in the committee's advisory letter to the Senate Budget Committee.

Bingaman and Domenici also noted that this year's budget resolution must make room for a new energy bill that will focus on the use of new energy technologies to reduce foreign oil dependence.

"We urge the Budget Committee to include a deficit neutral reserve fund in the budget resolution to accommodate such legislation," Bingaman and Domenici wrote.

The letter to the Energy and Interior departments is a requirement of the Budget Act.

The two lawmakers noted that for fiscal 2008, DOE is seeking substantial budget increases for three major initiatives: the American Competitiveness Initiative, the Advanced Energy Initiative, and the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership.

While the committee generally supports ACI and the Advanced Energy Initiative, Bingaman and Domenici said there is no consensus among committee members for GNEP, the multibillion proposal to reprocess and recycle nuclear waste to promote nuclear power use around the world.

"While some of our members strongly support it, others believe it is unwise and untimely," they wrote.

Besides the questions about SPR, Bingaman and Domenici noted DOE's proposed cut of nearly $41 billion in spending to clean up nuclear weapons sites. "While great progress has been made to clean up many of these sites, others lag far behind, and many of our members are opposed to reducing cleanup spending while so much work remains to be done," they wrote.

They also said that zeroing out of funds for research and development on oil, natural gas, hydroelectricity and geothermal energy "will compromise efforts to fully develop our domestic energy resources."

Elimination of the Clean Coal Technology account and moving less than half of the funds already provided for the program to FutureGen, they said, would frustrate congressional intent to promote clean coal technologies.

Other problems Bingaman and Domenici flagged were the 35 percent reduction in the weatherization program and the proposal to accelerate the Bonneville Power Administration's debt repayment by diverting surplus power revenues to the U.S. Treasury. They noted on the latter issue that Congress blocked similar plans for BPA last year, "and strong bipartisan opposition to the proposal remains."

The lawmakers also said they continue to have concerns about raising the interest rates that the Southeast, Southwest and Western Area Power Marketing administrations must pay to the U.S. Treasury.

Bingaman and Domenici also raised issues with DOE's pace of implementing programs authorized by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, particularly the well-known reservations about DOE's management of the loan guarantee program for "clean energy" projects.

Interior Department

Bingaman and Domenici also expressed their concerns with three of the Bush administration's legislative initiatives for the Interior Department, including plans to raise money by selling public lands and opening Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

For the second year in a row, the administration includes a proposal to sell over $300 million worth of Bureau of Land Management lands over 10 years, with 70 percent of proceeds going to the U.S. Treasury.

"A similar proposal was rejected by both parties, in both houses of Congress, last year," the letter states. "A majority of the committee remains strongly opposed to selling off the public domain for deficit reduction."

As for ANWR, the language is more neutral given GOP support for the plan, but the senators told the Budget Committee not to expect anything. "We do not believe that this Congress is likely to enact legislation to open ANWR," the letter states.

The third major initiative is President Bush's centennial challenge for the National Park Service, which calls for $1 billion -- $100 million over each of the next 10 years -- in donations from the public, friends groups and corporations for the centennial initiative, to be matched "dollar for dollar" by Congress.

However, Bingaman and Domenici question whether the plan will make it through Congress despite general bipartisan support for increased funding for the Park Service. The members "appreciate the administration's attempt to resolve the perennial problem of insufficient funding for the parks, but we need more information on how the proposal would work," the letter states.

"We note, too, that all previous legislative proposals to provide mandatory spending for the national parks have been unsuccessful," the senators noted.

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