Pena Faces Grilling

Pena Faces Grilling

Energy Secretary-designate Federico Pena faces tough questioning today during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, sources said Wednesday.

Committee members planned to grill Pena on his plans for dealing with nuclear waste, dependence on foreign oil, cleaning up DOE nuclear waste sites and other issues. Pena plans to list these as priorities for the Energy Department, according to an advance copy of his testimony, and also wants to use the department's research to advance economic competitiveness.

The Clinton administration opposes legislation passed last year by the Senate and reintroduced recently by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Murkowski to locate a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Murkowski and other members will ask Pena what alternatives the administration proposes, sources said. Pena's testimony says the department is close to determining the suitability of the Yucca Mountain site.

In addition, Murkowski and Senate Majority Whip Nickles are concerned the administration has no strategy for dealing with rising petroleum imports, a committee source and a Nickles spokesman said. The Energy Information Administration predicts that up to 61 percent of the nation's petroleum will be supplied by imports in 2015, and the federal government has no coherent plan for dealing with dependence on foreign oil, a committee source said. According to Pena's testimony, he will advocate increasing domestic oil production through better regulation and technology development, and also expanding natural gas use.

Murkowski also wants Pena to talk about what he will do to speed up cleanup at contaminated DOE nuclear facilities, a committee source said. Cleanup at the sites is budgeted at $6.6 billion annually and could cost up to $1 trillion, yet the department has little to show for it, the committee source said.

Pena plans to reaffirm the administration's commitment to energy conservation and renewable energy.

Murkowski has spoken skeptically of past efforts to abolish the Energy Department, and the committee source said he wants energy concerns to be represented at the highest levels of government.

Nevertheless, Sen. Rod Grams, R-Minn., an Energy and Natural Resources panel member, Wednesday announced he is reintroducing his bill from the last Congress to abolish the DOE and said he plans to ask Pena to justify the existence of the department.

In addition, Senate Budget Chairman Domenici is considering legislation to reform management at the department and plans to question Pena closely on the issue, an aide said.

The DOE employs more than 16,000 people in Domenici's home state of New Mexico, and Domenici has been a strong supporter of the department. The Albuquerque Journal Wednesday quoted Domenici as saying, "I am leaning strongly toward supporting [Pena.]"

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