Perry defends proposed Energy Dept. cuts

Perry defends proposed Energy Dept. cuts
© Camille Fine

Energy Secretary Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryAmerican workers will power the renewables revolution. Let’s make sure they have the skills to succeed Five races to watch in the Texas runoffs Five Republican run-offs to watch in Texas MORE sought to assure House lawmakers Thursday that his proposed cuts to various programs does not mean he thinks they're unimportant.

Perry said certain programs, like the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, are victims of their own successes and are eyed for cuts because they have met their goals.

“Just because a line item was reduced didn’t necessarily mean that that particular line had fallen out of favor,” Perry told the subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee with authority over his department.

“We’ve had some successes, and we ought to be celebrating those successes.”

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Perry pointed to two specific programs on vehicle technology and solar energy, which have both met their goals for each of the last five years. The overall office would get cut about about two-thirds under the Trump administration’s budget proposal released last month.

“We consider that to be meeting the goals that we put in place, and if you meet the goals — those are mature and they don’t need to be funded going forward,” Perry said.

“We’re re-prioritizing where these dollars need to go, what’s the best return on investment. We’re reprogramming — repurposing, if you will. But I think there’s some great celebration that needs to go on about some great successes that we’ve had, recognizing that we got a lot of competition around here, and that innovation, technology is what is going to take us to the lead.”

The Energy Department's overall budget request, at $30.6 billion, is slightly higher than its current funding level. But some programs that focus on areas like renewable energy would be cut, while programs in areas like fossil fuels would be increased.

Perry also proposed to eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) completely.

“That’s kind of like the gold star, it’s where we invent the future,” said Rep. Marcy KapturMarcia (Marcy) Carolyn KapturDems put squeeze on Ryan over chaplain controversy House chaplain rescinds resignation Religious tensions flare after chaplain's ouster MORE (Ohio), the subpanel’s top Democrat.

Perry told lawmakers that if they want to fund ARPA-E, he would follow along.

“If it’s the will of this committee for ARPA-E to continue to exist in some form or fashion going forward, I hope that you will have confidence … that we’ll have good successes and we can stand up together and say ‘this is how it’s supposed to work. This is a good return on investment for the American taxpayers’ dollars,’” he said.

He faced skepticism from Rep. Pete AguilarPeter (Pete) Ray AguilarThree House Dems say they'll oppose immigration floor vote over possible wall funding Immigration petition hits 204 as new Republican signs on GOP centrists threaten to use conservative’s weapon against them MORE (D-Calif.) over the administration’s proposal to split the Office of Electricity (OE) into two offices, one focused on electricity delivery and one focused on cybersecurity.

Aguilar was concerned that the electricity delivery office would lose 59 percent of its funding.

“Given the challenges hurricanes, prior years, presented to our power system, combined with aging electricity infrastructure, and increasing retirements of baseload coal and nuclear power plants, why has the [Energy Department] proposed to reduce OE’s funding in areas of electricity reliability and resiliency,” he asked.

But Perry again said that the proposal is not indicative of his interest in the program.

“Just because you see a reduction in a line item, it doesn’t necessarily relate to … a 36 percent, or whatever it is, reduction in our interest in that, or our ability to affect the areas which we’re discussing,” he said.

Perry also repeatedly defended his proposal to boost the cybersecurity focus.

“The message was clear from the president that the warfare that goes on today in the cyberspace is real, it is serious, and that we must lead the world, not only in protecting our citizens, our infrastructure, but also our allies. And this is a responsibility that weighs heavily on the shoulders of the United States,” Perry said.

“What we’re trying to do is consolidate DOE’s efforts, and not have them scattered out in different places.”

He garnered support from many lawmakers for the cybersecurity office, which the department has already started to launch.

“I’m as worried about cybersecurity, an attack on cyber, as I am nuclear,” said Rep. Mike SimpsonMIchael (Mike) Keith SimpsonThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — Tensions mount for House Republicans Koch-backed group to target some Republicans over spending vote in new ad campaign House panel votes to boost funding for Energy Dept., Army Corps MORE (R-Idaho), the subpanel’s chairman. “The difference with cyber is that they could attack and destroy your economy and you might not know where it came from. It is scary business. I think that’s our biggest threat.”