Energy chief says House GOP spending bill threatens nuclear security

Lawmakers have filed hundreds of amendments to the continuing resolution, many of which slash the department's funding.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Wednesday that the House Republicans' spending bill could jeopardize the country's nuclear security if enacted.

"The CR [continuing resolution] the House has been discussing would have adverse impact on the department, significant adverse impact," Chu said Wednesday after testifying to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on his department's fiscal year 2011 budget. "It would compromise what we need to do with our nuclear security. It would compromise a lot of what we need to do in winning the future."

While Chu didn't elaborate on exactly what parts of the bill could compromise nuclear security efforts, almost $12 billion of the agency's nearly $30 billion budget goes to its nuclear weapons and nonproliferation missions.

The continuing resolution, which the House hopes to vote on this week, would fund the government for the rest of the year. Hundreds of amendments -- many that slash Energy Department funding -- have been filed following the GOP leadership's decision to allow an open amendment process.

The House is expected to pass the amended CR. But since Democrats still control the Senate, it is unlikely to become law.

Apart from the nuclear security concerns Chu expressed Wednesday, he also said the cuts in the Republicans' bill for the Energy Department's Office of Science, among others, could compel the nation's brightest scientists to find work elsewhere, like China.

"Many of these scientists have other opportunities in other countries," Chu said, keeping on message with the president's theme of U.S. competitiveness. "China is very aggressively trying to recruit back those students who had graduate educations in the United States."

The House Republicans' efforts did not surface earlier during the hearing. Much of senators' attention was on the clean energy standard proposal Obama laid out in his State of the Union speech last month. Obama is calling for 80 percent of the nation's energy to come from clean resources, including renewables like wind and solar, "clean coal" technology, natural gas, and nuclear power.

The committee's ranking member, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, expressed concern that the administration was picking winners and losers in establishing the CES.

"When we're talking about how the administration might design a clean energy standard… will it be a technology neutral standard?" Murkowski asked Chu. "I'm hoping the answer is yes."

"The clean energy standard is meant to be technology neutral," Chu responded, but he added that the administration was investing more in nascent industries like renewables than in mature sectors like fossil fuels.

Chu's agency is working with Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., on a CES proposal. Bingaman has never supported earlier iterations of a clean energy standard, and he was notably silent on the issue during the hearing.

Obama's budget injects $8 billion into clean energy investments, most of that to the Energy Department's various clean and renewable energy programs. Many of the cuts within the agency go toward oil, gas, and coal. The Office of Fossil Energy's budget was cut by 45 percent, or $418 million. Obama's budget zeroed out funding for the Oil and Gas Research and Development Program and the Unconventional Fossil Technology Program, among others.

Bingaman said after the hearing that he doesn't support these cuts. "I think the cut that has been proposed was too severe," he said.

Still, Chu noted in his testimony Wednesday that Obama is asking for more than $450 million for research and development on "clean coal" technology, money which goes into the Office of Fossil Energy.

Obama's budget also eliminates subsidies for the oil and gas industry, a move that draws universal GOP opposition but also opposition from moderate Democrats on the energy panel like Bingaman and Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.