DOE nominee mum on carbon tax

Energy Department (DOE) Secretary nominee Ernest MonizErnest Jeffrey MonizOvernight Energy: Pruitt defends first-class travel | Watchdog says contractor charged Energy Department for spas, lobbying | Experts see eased EPA enforcement under Trump Obama energy secretary named to utility giant’s board Give Trump new nukes and we are that much closer to war MORE ducked a question during Tuesday’s Senate confirmation hearing about whether he supports a carbon tax.

Moniz downplayed a 2008 open letter he penned to President Obama that advocated imposing “carbon dioxide emissions pricing, most likely through a cap-and-trade system.”

The physicist and former DOE official said the political dynamics of that time were different.

“That was a time in which there were bipartisan discussions of cap-and-trade systems, and I noted what the implications of that would be,” Moniz said Tuesday before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Moniz was responding to a line of questioning from Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThe 14 GOP senators who voted against Trump’s immigration framework Prison sentencing bill advances over Sessions objections Grassley ‘incensed’ by Sessions criticism of proposed sentencing reform legislation MORE (R-Utah).

A carbon tax has little political traction, but has underscored the divide between liberals and conservatives on climate issues. Republicans and centrist Democrats say such a tax would slow the economy, and burden the nation’s poorest people.

Democrats, however, say such a measure would reduce carbon emissions, in turn slowing climate change and improving public health.

Moniz attempted to circumvent the subject, noting the Obama administration has ruled out a carbon tax, and said the energy department “is not the locus of discussions about such fiscal policies.”

Instead, Moniz emphasized that the department’s “principal job is [to] push the technology innovation to get the cost of the low-carbon technologies as low as possible.”

Moniz worked Tuesday to build support for his nomination to replace departing Energy chief Steven Chu, and got a warm reception from senators on the Energy and Natural Resources panel.

He spoke of the importance of energy sources ranging from coal to wind, natural gas to nuclear, and stressed the need to “leverage” federal funding to move new technologies into the marketplace.

If confirmed by the Senate, Moniz would take the helm of an agency that has taken a political beating for giving federal dollars to green energy firms that later went belly-up.

Committee Chairman Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Health Care: Trump eases rules on insurance outside ObamaCare | HHS office on religious rights gets 300 complaints in a month | GOP chair eyes opioid bill vote by Memorial Day Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare Grassley, Dems step up battle over judicial nominees MORE (D-Ore.) warned Moniz that the department’s spending practices must change.

“The bottom line is the taxpayers need more protection when it comes to federal financing,” Wyden said.

Moniz agreed that DOE loan programs needed revisions, but said many federal investments in clean-energy technology are paying dividends.

“In the low-carbon agenda, first, I think in some places we are seeing remarkable cost reductions occurring already,” Moniz said, referring to wind and solar energy.

Moniz faced questions from senators about natural-gas exports, a top concern of Wyden and other senators on the Energy panel.

The nominee did not shed much light on his views on natural-gas exports, though he did say reviews of the sales would need to consider effects on the domestic market and the “cumulative impact.”

Business groups and others want the White House to expand exports of natural gas, arguing the trade would boost jobs and bring in more revenue to government coffers.

But some Democrats and manufacturers worry sending more natural gas overseas would raise domestic prices, harming U.S. manufacturers who are benefiting from abundant and affordable energy supplies.

Moniz also would enter into discussions regarding the nation’s nuclear waste stockpile, and was pressed often on that subject Tuesday by lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.

Moniz said he supports many of the recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, on which he served.

The panel, formed by Obama in 2010, suggested moving nuclear waste to interim storage sites and allowing states to apply to become the nation’s long-term repository for nuclear waste, among other items.

Wyden is working on nuclear waste legislation that uses the Blue Ribbon Commission report as its basis. Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Health Care: Trump health chief backs CDC research on gun violence | GOP negotiators meet on ObamaCare market fix | Groups sue over cuts to teen pregnancy program GOP negotiators meet on ObamaCare market fix 30 million people will experience eating disorders — the CDC needs to help MORE (R-Tenn.), Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinLawmakers feel pressure on guns Feinstein: Trump must urge GOP to pass bump stock ban Florida lawmakers reject motion to consider bill that would ban assault rifles MORE (D-Calif.) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThe siren of Baton Rouge Interior plan to use drilling funds for new projects met with skepticism The 14 GOP senators who voted against Trump’s immigration framework MORE (R-Alaska), the Senate Energy Committee’s top Republican, are also involved in that effort.

The Energy panel has yet to schedule a vote on advancing Moniz's nomination to the full Senate, but Wyden signaled it could happen soon.

“The sooner our committee can vote to recommend Dr. Moniz, the sooner he can get to work,” Wyden said in a statement after the hearing.

— This story was first posted at 1:09 p.m. and has been updated.