DOE to use executive power regardless of election outcome — Moniz

Source: Katherine Ling, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, October 31, 2014

The Energy Department will continue to “aggressively pursue” President Obama’s goal for a clean energy economy through executive authority regardless of whether Republicans take control of Congress on Tuesday, the head of the agency said today.

The path forward for DOE does not vary significantly if the Republicans win a majority in the Senate next week and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) takes the gavel of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said at the Washington Ideas Forum in Washington, D.C.

“When it comes to the Climate Action Plan, which is our main guide to what we are doing in the energy space supplemented by energy security concerns and driving the economy through new manufacturing … we are exercising all of those programs through existing executive authority,” Moniz said at the event, sponsored byThe Atlantic and the Aspen Institute.

Moniz added that DOE has “very good relationships” with Murkowski and the current chairwoman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Mary Landrieu (R-La.), and that the agency works well with leaders in both chambers.

If Republicans take control of the Senate and Murkowski becomes the head of the committee, she is sure to press DOE on several key issues already high on her priority list, including repealing a ban on U.S. crude oil exports and the Keystone XL pipeline.

At the forum, Moniz would not state an opinion about whether the country should resume exporting crude oil, but he said there are several agencies working on the issue and understanding the full context of the situation is crucial to any decision.

“This discussion, generally speaking, is happening without the context of we still import 7.5 million barrels of crude oil a day. We have become in just a few years a substantial exporter of oil products,” Moniz said. “This is a very important consideration.”

Moniz added that the United States is still linked to global oil markets and prices.

“We are evaluating all of the factors, and I think that perhaps the arguments are a little bit overventilated at the moment,” he said.

As usual, Moniz passed on the question of KXL, as he said it was the State Department’s responsibility.

In a preview of DOE’s work on the first part of the four-year Quadrennial Energy Review (QER), Moniz said the agency has realized that the nation has the “right level” of infrastructure investment for future needs, but where that investment is going should be focused on 21st-century infrastructure that is “clean and resilient.”

“It is a question of how we direct it, guide it, to a kind of clean energy future we are looking for,” Moniz said. “How do we guide it towards having the transactional capacity to support a clean energy future” that is also resilient to extreme weather, cyber hacking and physical attacks?

Moniz earlier this year said the results of this first QER review of pipelines, transmission, oil by rail, methane leaks and other infrastructure would likely be finished at the end of the year and shared in January.

Touching on another issue that usually comes up after the elections, Moniz reiterated the need to extend the renewable tax credits and “to do it in the way there is predictability on all sides.” He also voiced support for expanding master limited partnerships to all energy companies, saying it could “provide an excellent new vehicle for attracting private capital into the future.”

Thomas Fanning, the chairman, president and CEO of utility Southern Co., who spoke after Moniz at the forum, said that while he thinks Moniz is “fabulous,” the best tax reform would be to eliminate all the tax incentives except accelerated depreciation and to lower the corporate tax rate to 25 percent.

“Give me that, I am in,” he said.

The leaders of the Senate Finance Committee, Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), said before the congressional recess that they would like to pass a “tax extenders” package — including about a dozen energy-related tax breaks such as the production tax credit among its 50 or so provisions — during the post-election lame-duck session, with a substantial overhaul of the tax code beginning next year.

But what that tax code would look like — in particular, for energy — will depend on which party controls the Senate (E&E Daily, Sept. 18)