Our questions for Energy Secretary nominee Steven Chu at his Senate confirmation hearing


Climate Science Watch has submitted to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources a list of questions we would like to see Chairman Jeff Bingaman or other committee members ask Dr. Steven Chu when he testifies at his confirmation hearing on January 13 before being sworn in as Secretary of Energy.  We enthusiastically support Dr. Chu’s nomination and believe he will reorient DOE’s energy and climate research programs in positive directions.  Our questions point to key problem areas relating to scientific integrity and climate-relevant R&D.

Post by Anne Polansky

In addition to these proposed questions, Climate Science Watch prepared a four-page Department of Energy Transition Recommendations paper on issues of Climate Change Preparedness, the DOE Climate Change Science Program, DOE Organization, and Sustainable Energy technology R&D.     

These are the five questions we submitted to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for Dr. Steven Chu’s confirmation hearing, January 13, 2009, at 10:00 am in 366 Dirsken Senate Office Building. 

1)  The Department of Energy has participated as a key agency in the U.S. Global Change Research Program (renamed the Climate Change Science Program under the Bush administration) since its inception in 1989.  The primary focus of the Climate and Environmental Sciences Division in DOE’s Office of Science, comprising 85-90% of its budget, has been on improving our understanding of the physical climate system (e.g. radiative forcing, the role of clouds and aerosols, cloud feedbacks, the global carbon cycle, and so on).  The DOE program also supports some, much more limited, research on climate change impacts and vulnerability.  As we move toward needing a better understanding of the environmental and societal impacts of climate change, and on the comparative analysis of mitigation and adaptation response options, would you support redirecting the priorities of DOE’s climate research program toward playing a much larger role in advancing understanding in these areas?

2)  Dr. James McCarthy of Harvard University and current President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science is one of many who have strongly criticized recent cases of Bush administration political appointees “burrowing in” to career federal positions with responsibilities for making or administering science policies, saying the result would be “to leave wreckage behind.”  (Washington Post archived article, 11/22/08, “Top Scientist Rails Against Hirings: Bush Appointees Land Career Jobs Without Technical Backgrounds”)  A new associate director of the Office of Science, Jeffrey Salmon, is one notable example cited in the Washington Post article:  he has been a speechwriter for Vice President Cheney, and participated in the development of a now-notorious, oil industry-sponsored plan to wage a global warming disinformation campaign and to attack the mainstream climate science community.  As the new Secretary of Energy, will you be mindful of the need to prevent burrowers from inappropriately imposing their political biases on official DOE policy?

3) The National Coal Council, the official FACA advisory group for DOE’s coal programs, is heavily stocked with coal company CEOs.  The language in their recommendations sounds more like a pro-coal ad campaign than the sort of objective and balanced critique one would expect from an official advisory body.  Will you be reviewing the membership of the National Coal Council, and will you consider adding members with expertise on the relationship between coal burning and climate change, including carbon capture and storage?

4)  The poor way the Energy Department under the Bush administration handled R&D on carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) for coal combustion, including the late-stage cancellation of FutureGen, has caused needless delays in resolving critical issues germane to determining the viability of this climate mitigation option.  How do you plan to expedite an R&D program needed to ascertain the feasibility of CCS in a timely enough manner to avert the disastrous climate change consequences we are facing?

5)  Do you believe the Energy Department should be continuing to support mainstream, commercially mature industries, such as oil and gas?  How much of the total DOE budget could be diverted away from fossil fuel programs representing business-as-usual energy practices, toward low-carbon energy sources, smart-grid systems, and other technologies and policies commensurate with the threat of climate change? 


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