Energy & Environment

Perry replacement moves closer to confirmation despite questions on Ukraine

Energy secretary nominee Dan Brouillette on Thursday moved one step closer to confirmation, receiving words of praise from members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, despite lingering questions from Democrats about any potential involvement in Ukraine.

Brouillette, currently the deputy secretary for the Department of Energy (DOE), was nominated to the post after Secretary Rick Perry announced he would leave the position in October. But Perry's exit comes as questions have been raised about his role in the Ukraine controversy engulfing the White House.

President Trump has cited Perry as the impetus for taking the controversial July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that spurred an impeachment inquiry into him.

Perry was also one of the so-called three amigos, alongside former special envoy Kurt Volker and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, who dealt with Ukraine. 

Skepticism over Perry's dealings with Ukraine has led to questions for Brouillette, who told lawmakers his involvement with the country extends only to providing help expanding their natural gas markets.

Brouillette said the department was called upon to provide technical assistance to Natfogaz, a Ukrainian gas company. 

"I am aware that the secretary met on occasion with individuals who were asking for assistance with the restructuring, if you will, or reorganization of the state-owned enterprise," Brouillette said in reference to Natfogaz.

"I am not aware of any conversation that [Perry] had either with Mr. [Rudy] Giuliani or others within the Ukrainian government," he added, referring the president's personal lawyer.

Brouillette said meeting with eastern and central European countries is in the interests of the U.S., as promoting their energy industries could reduce European reliance on natural gas from Russia.

But Brouillette said he was not present for Perry's conversations or "any of the conversations related to the House's inquiry."

"I'm not aware of the conversations that Secretary Perry had or did not have," he said. "I wasn't a party to that; I didn't have any knowledge of that." 

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) questioned whether Brouillette, like Perry, would defy congressional subpoenas related to the impeachment inquiry.

His answer mirrored closely the response from Perry, who refused to show at hearings after DOE staff said the inquiry was not valid.

"If I were to receive a subpoena from the U.S. Congress I would of course consult with executive branch counsel and, assuming that the subpoena was properly served and [I was given] the opportunity to be represented by executive branch counsel, I would make myself available," he said. 

Hirono retorted that is was assumed a subpoena would be duly issued.

Brouillette served in the Energy Department during the George W. Bush administration. He was nominated by Trump to the No. 2 role and easily confirmed by the Senate in a 79-17 vote in August 2017.

He served as an Energy Department assistant secretary between 2001 and 2003 and also worked as chief of staff to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. 

Before joining the Trump administration, Brouillette served as senior vice president and head of public policy for USAA, a financial services firm. He also worked as a vice president at Ford Motor Co. prior to that.

Most of the questions directed at Brouillette were related to energy policy, including how to spur further development at the agency's many national laboratories, and how to manage the nation's energy mix.

Brouillette said he believes in an "all of the above" energy policy, something he said was not a large departure from the approach of the Obama administration. 

He also repeatedly stressed the need for the U.S. to further develop battery storage before the U.S. can rely more heavily on renewable energy, telling Sen. Steve Daines (R) from coal-rich Montana, that fossil fuels would remain key for maintaining baseload power.

Updated 3:52 p.m. 

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