Republicans say Obama's energy budget biased against oil, coal

The budget calls for $8 billion in investments in clean energy research and development, including $5.4 billion for the Energy Department’s Office of Science and $457 million for solar energy research. Meanwhile, the budget cuts funding for the Energy Department’s fossil energy budget by 45 percent.

“Looking at the budget, it looks like some resources will be advantaged over others,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the ranking Republican on the committee.

Murkowski said the budget, in cutting funding for traditional energy sources and boosting funding for clean energy sources, gives an indication of how the administration will structure a proposal to get 80 percent of the country’s electricity from low-carbon energy sources by 2035.

“It seems to me that within the administration, you are picking those areas through the budget process that you would like to see advanced,” Murkowski said.

But Chu stressed that the administration’s “clean energy standard” proposal will be “technology-neutral.” He said the budget reflects an effort by the administration to increase funding for technologies that have not yet matured.

“If you look at the history of the United States, there are mature technologies and there are technologies that need more help,” Chu said, adding that oil and natural gas are “mature technologies” and solar needs additional research and development.

“We will need oil, we will need gas, we will need coal, there’s no doubt about that. But we consider those mature technologies,” Chu said.

But it wasn’t just Republicans that criticized Obama’s budget. While he said the majority of the administration’s energy budget proposals are the “right calls,” Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) took issue with the proposal to cut funding for fossil fuel research. Traditional energy sources like coal, he said, “can be made much cleaner by the application of appropriate research and development.”

Meanwhile, Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) focused his concerns on gas prices, which have reached a two-year high.

“My constituents are concerned,” Risch said. “They go out and fill their cars up with gas once a week and they are really concerned.”

Risch said Chu needs to come up with a way to stall rising gas prices. “This is not getting any better and a year from now it’s not going to get any better,” he said. “The president is going to look to you for answers.”

Noting that the United States can’t have a major effect on world oil prices, Chu said the Obama administration is working to reduce the country’s reliance on oil.

“We have to do something about that and that’s why we’re so keen on controlling the expansive use of oil in the United States,” Chu said.

Obama, in his budget request, called for eliminating a series of oil industry tax breaks. The Department of Energy estimates that such a repeal will save $3.6 billion in fiscal 2012 and a total of $46.2 billion during the next decade.

But Republicans signaled Wednesday that they plan to take a scalpel to the administration’s budget. Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) told Chu that the administration’s energy budget request will likely face further cuts amid broad efforts by Republicans to slash spending.

“We’re looking at a budget that is probably not going to be realized,” Coats said.