Wyden would press rumored Energy pick Moniz on Hanford cleanup, gas exports

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) plans to question Ernest Moniz about his views on natural gas exports and the cleanup of the polluted Hanford nuclear site if the Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicist is nominated for Energy secretary.

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Wyden is chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that would vet Moniz, who served as undersecretary of Energy under President Clinton, if Moniz's rumored nomination to run the Energy Department (DOE) comes to pass.

Wyden, in an interview to air Sunday, implied that they have not always seen eye-to-eye on Hanford.

“He . . . had a fair amount of involvement with respect to Hanford when he served in the government earlier, and we had some spirited discussions, let’s put it that way,” Wyden said on C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" program.

The Energy Department oversees the multi-billion-dollar cleanup of the badly polluted Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington state, which for decades produced plutonium for nuclear weapons.

In late February, Wyden asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate DOE’s monitoring of nuclear waste tanks at Hanford following the recent discovery that several are leaking.

The sprawling Hanford site is around 35 miles north of the Oregon border, and sits along the Columbia River that flows through both states.

Wyden expressed concern that across-the-board federal spending cuts that just began taking effect, called sequestration, will hinder work at Hanford.

“The sequester would really hurt our ability to get that cleaned up. That affects, of course, the Columbia River, which is the lifeblood of the Pacific Northwest,” he said

Wyden also said he would ask Moniz, if he were the nominee, about his views on various renewable energy sources.

“We have got this great opportunity right now, particularly to tap some of the renewables, and we see them in our part of the world, that really have gotten short shrift, like geothermal power,” Wyden said in the interview.

The Oregon Democrat would also query Moniz about his views on natural gas.

Wyden has expressed concern over an array of industry applications to export natural gas that are under DOE review, fearing a big export expansion could hurt U.S. consumers and manufacturers.

Moniz heads MIT’s Energy Initiative, which produced a wide-ranging 2011 study on natural gas that said the U.S. should “not erect barriers to natural gas imports or exports.”

Elsewhere in the interview, Wyden announced plans to hold a hearing on recent increases in gasoline prices, saying there is “no reasonable explanation” for the surge.

The Hill reported Friday on the plans for the hearing.

He discussed the energy committee's agenda more broadly, but provided few details on specific pieces of legislation he wants to shepherd through the panel.

Energy legislation has been stalled on Capitol Hill in recent years.

But Wyden said that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has provided assurance that he wants to move forward on energy, and noted Reid is a strong advocate of renewable energy.

“The leader has made it clear that this is going to be a priority for him this session, our agenda in Energy and Natural Resources,” Wyden said.

Check out the whole interview here.