Speeches & Floor Statements

Energy and Water Development Subcommittee Hearing on Department of Energy Fiscal Year 2021 Budget

Posted on March 4, 2020

The Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development will please come to order.

Today’s hearing will review the administration’s fiscal year 2021 budget request for the Department of Energy.

This is the Subcommittee’s first budget hearing this year.

We will have three additional hearings with the Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation, the National Nuclear Security Administration, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission over the coming weeks.

Senator Feinstein and I will each have an opening statement.

I will then recognize each Senator for up to five minutes for an opening statement, alternating between the majority and minority, in the order in which they arrived. 

We will then turn to Secretary Dan Brouillette (broo-YET) for his testimony on behalf of the Department of Energy.

At the conclusion of Secretary Brouillette’s (broo-YET’s) testimony, I will then recognize Senators for five minutes of questions each, alternating between the majority and minority in the order in which they arrived. 

One of the best-kept secrets in Washington is the strong bipartisan support from Congress and recent administrations that have given to prioritizing American research and technology development.

Much of that funding comes through this subcommittee, specifically the increases in funding basic scientific research and transformational energy technology projects.

Over the past 5 years this subcommittee has provided record funding for the Office of Science and ARPA-E.

Discretionary spending has increased 20 percent; but within that number military spending has increased 25 percent, Congress has increased funding for the National Institutes of Health by 39 percent; funding for the Office of Science by 38 percent, supercomputing by 60 percent and ARPA-E by 52 percent.

Steady funding increases are important because the Department has been able to build the world’s fastest supercomputers and world-leading scientific user facilities.  Some are currently being leveraged to help understand and respond to the coronavirus.

For example, Oak Ridge National Laboratory is using the Summit supercomputer to better understand the coronavirus and Argonne National Laboratory’s Advanced Photon Source is being used to develop detailed images of the virus. 

In addition to the increased funding for basic scientific research, we have provided significant new funding for clean energy research as well.

Last March, I proposed a New Manhattan Project for Clean Energy a five year project with Ten Grand Challenges that will use American research and technology to put our country and the world firmly on a path toward cleaner, cheaper energy.

Meeting these Grand Challenges would create breakthroughs in advanced nuclear reactors, natural gas, carbon capture, better batteries, greener buildings, electric vehicles, cheaper solar and fusion.

To provide the tools to create these breakthroughs, the federal government should keep the United States number one in the world in advanced computing and double funding for energy research.

As we review the Department of Energy’s fiscal year 2021 budget request today and work on drafting the Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill, I continue to keep these Ten Grand Challenges in mind.

First, I would like to thank Secretary Dan Brouillette (broo-YET) for being here today.  This is his first appearance before the Subcommittee since he was confirmed to be the Secretary of Energy on December 2nd

I also want to thank Senator Feinstein, with whom I have the pleasure to work with again this year to draft the Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill. 

Our subcommittee has a good record of being the first of appropriations bills to be considered by the Committee and by the Senate each year.  For each of the past five years, Senator Feinstein and I have been able to work in a bipartisan way to have our bill signed into law. 

Last year, we provided $7 billion for the Department’s Office of Science, the fifth consecutive year of record level funding, which supports basic science and energy research at our national laboratories and is the nation’s largest supporter of research in the physical sciences. Our national laboratories are our secret weapons, which is why I’ve worked hard to help increase funding for the Office of Science by 38 percent over the last 5 years.

The bill also provided $425 million for ARPA-E, to continue the important research and development investments into high-impact energy technologies – another record funding level in a regular appropriations bill and a program we have worked hard to increase funding for by 52 percent over the last five years. 

We also provided $1.49 billion for Department’s Office of Nuclear Energy, which is responsible for research and development of advanced reactors and small modular reactors.

Finally, the bill we passed last year provided $16.7 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration, including record funding levels for our Weapons Program and Naval Reactors. 

This year, the Department of Energy’s budget request is about $3.2 billion below what Congress provided last year.

I’m pleased that the Department’s budget request proposes $710 million for supercomputing through the Office of Science and National Nuclear Security Administration, as well as enables the deployment of exascale systems at Argonne and Oak Ridge National Laboratories next calendar year.

I’m also pleased to see that the request prioritizes research of technologies for energy storage, critical minerals, harsh environment materials, grid integration, advanced manufacturing, exascale computing, and microelectronics. 

In addition, the budget prioritizes an initiative called Industries of the Future, which includes quantum information science (QIS) and artificial intelligence.

Unfortunately, the budget request this year again proposes to decrease spending on federally funded research and development, terminate ARPA-E and the loan guarantee programs, and cuts other funding, specifically:

o   The Office of Science by $1.2 billion;

o   Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy by over $2 billion;

o   Nuclear Energy by $298 million; and

o   Fossil Energy Programs by $48 million.

And that is why we are holding this hearing: to give Secretary Brouillette (broo-YET) an opportunity to discuss the Department’s priorities, so Senator Feinstein and I can make informed decisions as we begin to write the fiscal year 2021 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill. 

Governing is about setting priorities, and we always have to make some hard decisions to ensure the highest priorities are funded. 

Today, I'd like to focus my questions on four main areas, all with an eye toward setting priorities:

1.    Prioritizing federal support for science and energy research;

2.    Keeping America first in supercomputing;

3.    Demonstrating that we can build safe, affordable advanced reactors; and

4.    Solving the nuclear waste stalemate.

The Department of Energy’s research programs have made the United States a world leader in science and technology, and these programs will help the United States maintain and advance its brainpower advantage to remain competitive at a time when other countries are investing heavily in research.

And, I think it is important for people to know that Republicans and Democrats in Congress have worked together to provide record levels of funding for science, research, and technology.

The U.S. has maintained the number one spot during the past two years, thanks to sustained funding for supercomputing, which over the last five years has increased by 59.8 percent.

I am pleased that this budget request proposes to continue development of exascale supercomputers – the next generation of supercomputers – that will develop a system a thousand times faster than the first supercomputer the U.S. built in 2008. 

The budget request includes funding for the deployment of these exascale systems at Argonne and Oak Ridge National Laboratories next calendar year, and I want to make sure these programs stay on schedule.

Today, nuclear power accounts for 60% of our carbon-free electricity and, if we are going to slow the effects of climate change, nuclear power will be necessary into the future.

However, the cost to build and operate today’s large nuclear reactors is too high.

If we don’t do something soon, nuclear power will not have a future in the United States.

Advanced reactors have the potential to be smaller, cost less, produce less waste, and be safer than today’s reactors.

Last year, we funded a new Advanced Reactors Demonstration Program in the Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill.  This new program will allow the Department of Energy to partner with the nuclear industry and build at least two advanced reactors in the next five to seven years.  Secretary Brouillette (broo-YET), I’d like to hear your views on this new program, and the actions the Department of Energy is taking to make this program succeed.

To ensure that nuclear power has a strong future in this country, we must solve the decades’ long stalemate over what to do with used fuel from our nuclear reactors. 

Senator Feinstein and I have been working on this problem for years, and I’d like to take the opportunity to compliment Senator Feinstein on her leadership and her insistence that we find a solution to this problem.

To solve the stalemate, we need to find places to build geologic repositories and temporary storage facilities so the federal government can finally meet its legal obligation to dispose of nuclear waste safely and permanently.

This year’s budget request for the Department of Energy does not include funding to restart work for Yucca Mountain repository, but does include funds to study ways to open an interim storage site or use a private interim storage site.

I strongly believe that Yucca Mountain can and should be part of the solution to the nuclear waste stalemate. Federal law designates Yucca Mountain as the nation’s repository for used nuclear fuel, and the Commission’s own scientists have told us that we can safely store nuclear waste there for up to one million years.   

But even if we had Yucca Mountain open today, we would still need to look for another permanent repository.  We have more than enough used fuel to fill Yucca Mountain to its legal capacity. 

So Senator Feinstein and I, working with Senator Murkowski and others, have a bill to implement the recommendations of the President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, which we reintroduced last year.

The legislation complements Yucca Mountain, and would create a new federal agency to find additional permanent repositories and temporary facilities for used nuclear fuel.

But the quickest, and probably the least expensive, way for the federal government to start to meet its used nuclear fuel obligations is for the Department of Energy to contract with a private storage facility for used nuclear fuel.  

I would like to work with you, Secretary Brouillette (broo-YET), to figure out how to make progress this year on ways to store used nuclear fuel at interim storage sites or private sites.  I’d like to hear from you today what the Department plans to do to help break the nuclear waste stalemate, including what legislative changes we would need to proceed with interim storage or private storage. 

I am pleased the budget also includes a request for $249 million for Quantum Information Science, including $237 million from the Office of Science and $12 million from the NNSA to develop quantum computers, design new algorithms for quantum computing, and use quantum computing to model fundamental physics, chemistry, and materials phenomena.

The request also supports early stage research associated with the initial steps to establish a dedicated Quantum Network. 

The potential for Quantum Information Sciences is incredibly vast and complex, but will transform the speed at which we process data, develop new materials, and provide much greater system security. 

I look forward to working with the Secretary as we begin putting together our Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2021 and hearing about Secretary Brouillette’s (broo-YET’s) priorities.

I also expect that the Department will continue to fund projects consistent with Congressional intent in the fiscal year 2020 Further Consolidated Appropriations Act.

I will now recognize Senator Feinstein for her opening statement.