Cantwell demands answers from Trump on energy transition

By:  John Siciliano
Source: Washington Examiner

Sen. Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, asked the Trump transition team Thursday to clarify a number of issues that have her constituents concerned about the fate of the Energy Department.

"My constituents and others across the nation are anxious about the next administration's intentions for the U.S. Department of Energy, especially now that the president-elect has announced he intends to nominate as the next secretary someone that has called for the department to be abolished," said the Washington Democrat in a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the transition.

Cantwell will have a big say on the confirmation of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry as head of the Energy Department. Perry made part of his 2012 run for president about closing the agency, even though he famously forgot the name of the agency during a Republican primary debate.

The Cantwell letter asks for a detailed explanation on a number of issues raised by a Trump questionnaire that was sent to the Energy Department last week. The questionnaire has become a lightning rod for critics of the Trump transition team since it targets agency employees who attended international meetings on global warming.

"I have already expressed my deep concern about those questions suggesting that the next administration may intend to single out department civil servants and contractors that worked on several Obama administration initiatives," she said. "I will not allow this to happen."

Cantwell wants the Trump team "to set the record straight" on a number of issues raised by the 74-question list, including those that go beyond the employee concerns.

A key concern is how Trump will deal with nuclear waste at the Hanford nuclear weapons site in her state. "The Hanford site, located in Washington state, represents the largest cleanup operation in the U.S. and, arguably, the most technically challenging on the planet," the letter read. "My constituents that live near the Hanford site, and also the residents across the Pacific Northwest that rely on the Columbia River for its many contributions to the regional economy, are concerned that the next administration may not sufficiently understand the importance of this effort."

The questionnaire sought answers on the funding levels for the agency's environmental programs, which include cleaning up the nation's nuclear weapons sites. More than half of the Energy Department's programs have nothing to do with energy and climate change, but with the management of the nation's nuclear stockpile and legacy waste issues that extend to the Cold War.

Other members of the Senate also raised concerns about the Trump administration not understanding what the role of the agency is and how a plan is needed to ensure public safety.

Cantwell also wants to make sure that the Trump administration understands that it cannot shut down the Energy Information Administration, which is a vital source of independent analysis and statistics on which lawmakers rely to make decisions.

"The transition team asked 15 separate questions about the Energy Information Administration, including inquiring into the agency's independence and the work EIA did to calculate the potential impacts of the Clean Power Plan," according to the letter. "The questions also seem to express the transition team's displeasure with EIA's determination that renewable energy resources, such as solar and wind, are becoming increasingly cost-effective."

Cantwell said the "mission of EIA is to collect, analyze and disseminate independent and impartial energy information to promote sound policymaking, efficient markets and public understanding of energy and its interaction with the economy and the environment."

She also wants clarification on the Trump team's outlook when it comes to the national labs that the Energy Department runs, as well as maintaining the agency's grid security initiative to guard against cyberattacks.

Cantwell is also concerned that Trump will seek to gut the agency's mission innovation and energy efficiency standards programs, which are geared toward reducing energy use and emissions in line with the Paris climate change deal.

"The federal commitment to energy [research and development] is less than one-half of 1 percent of what consumers in this nation pay each year for energy. Increasing energy innovation is a policy with broad bipartisan support," the letter said. "We must re-assert our American exceptionalism and invest in all energy technologies that are known to create jobs and grow the economy."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, did not issue a statement on the questionnaire and on Wednesday praised the nomination of Gov. Perry as energy secretary.