Energy Week Ahead: Green Energy Spending Draws House Scrutiny

A jump in spending on green energy research coupled with the steady rise in gasoline prices give House Republicans a chance this week to protest President Barack Obama’s policies and strategies on fuel costs.

For two days, tomorrow and March 28, lawmakers will subject Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s lieutenants to a grilling on the agency’s $27.2 billion budget for 2013. Programs for advanced research along with energy efficiency and renewable energy account for the biggest percentage increase in spending.

Assistant Secretary Patricia Hoffman and acting assistant secretaries Henry Kelly and Charles McConnell will outline plans for electricity delivery, renewables and fossil fuels at a March 27 hearing of the House Appropriations subcommittee on energy and water development.

Republicans may direct their questions at Kelly, who leads the agency’s renewable and energy efficiency office. President Barack Obama’s administration is seeking $2.34 billion for Kelly’s program, a 29 percent increase over the current level, for the year beginning Oct. 1. That dwarfs the 3.2 percent increase requested for the full department.

A day later, the same panel will hear Arun Majumdar, director of the Energy Department’s advanced research office, known as ARPA-E, and David Frantz, the loan guarantee program director. Majumdar’s office is asking Congress for $350 million, a 27 percent increase, in 2013.

President Barack Obama speaks at Sempra U.S. Gas & Power's Copper Mountain Solar facility. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images Close

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President Barack Obama speaks at Sempra U.S. Gas & Power's Copper Mountain Solar facility. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee has questioned whether government funding for ARPA-E overlaps with private investment. Other panels are investigating loan guarantees following the bankruptcy of Solyndra LLC, the recipient of $535 million in U.S. backing.

When Chu visited Capitol Hill last month to testify on his agency’s budget, questions turned to gasoline prices, which have more than doubled since Obama took office in January 2009. Prices climbed every day except March 5-7 this month and all but one day in February.

Congress continues its examination of fuel costs this week. The House Natural Resources Committee on March 27 holds a hearing on the impact of rising gasoline prices on U.S. tourism. The chamber’s Energy and Commerce Committee on March 28 discusses proposed legislation aimed at stemming the rise in fuel costs.

Expect to hear more about this issue as the election season wears on. With the Democratic administration signaling that a release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is possible, and congressional Republicans blaming the president for high energy costs, both sides are eager to show they’re on the consumer’s side.

ALSO WORTH WATCHING:

HOUSE INTERIOR SUBPOENAS: The House Natural Resources Committee on March 28 discusses subpoenas in its investigations of the Interior Department’s coal-production regulation and moratorium on deepwater drilling after the 2010 BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The committee is seeking documents relating to edits in an agency report to make it “falsely appear” that engineers backed the post-spill ban on drilling.

NUCLEAR LOANS: The Nuclear Energy Institute’s top lobbyist, Alex Flint, joins a discussion March 29 on the Energy Department loan guarantees for nuclear power at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The Energy Department has conditionally approved $10.3 billion in nuclear-energy loan backing.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Wingfield in Washington at bwingfield3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Daniel Enoch at denoch@bloomberg.net

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