Barton drafting agency overhaul over break

By George Cahlink | 08/03/2017 06:53 AM EDT

House Energy and Commerce Vice Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas).

House Energy and Commerce Vice Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas). Gage Skidmore/Flickr

House Energy and Commerce Vice Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas), who is reviewing Department of Energy operations, hopes to unveil legislation revamping the agency this fall.

Barton told E&E News last week that committee staff would begin drafting the DOE reauthorization bill over the summer recess and expects to have working groups of lawmakers weigh in come September and October.

Barton, the committee’s former chairman, said a fall unveiling could pave the way for the measure to begin working its way through the House before the end of the year.


"I want it to be broader rather than narrow," said Barton, tasked by Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) to work with Energy Secretary Rick Perry on making legislative recommendations for improving operations.

Barton said he had spoken with Walden about the emerging legislation but said the Oregon lawmaker had yet to decide how big of a reform measure to push. Barton said Walden backed his plan to draft legislation this month and then have members weigh in come fall.

Walden in several public forums has called for modernizing the Energy Department to meet 21st-century challenges. He has said the ongoing review will see "what does and does not work."

DOE "was basically created in an era of [energy] scarcity, and we are not in an era of scarcity anymore," Walden said at a June event sponsored by Bloomberg Government.

‘Environmental jurisdiction’

Specifically, Walden has raised concerns Energy Department work has "bled" over into U.S. EPA and that it may be time for DOE to regain some of its "environmental jurisdiction."

The chairman has also stressed the importance of DOE’s work in maintaining the nation’s nuclear stockpile, as well as the research done at laboratories.

Already, the Trump administration has signaled some organizational shifts at DOE, with plans to have separate undersecretaries of energy and science, a move that would undo action made by Obama Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to put all research and development and the national labs under one roof.

Perry has said he favors a full legislative reauthorization for the Energy Department. In recent years, various agency activities have been renewed piecemeal, but it’s been years since a broad rewrite. Barton is a political ally of Perry, who served as Texas governor.

The White House is pressing for deep spending cuts on the agency’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy programs and wants to eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which funds "high-risk" projects.

Congress, however, has shown some reluctance to go along with spending cuts that deep in its annual appropriations bills.

When it comes to the reauthorization, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) signaled she may not be on board with House plans for an overhaul.

"I guess the question is, why are we doing it?" Murkowski said yesterday.

Reporter Geof Koss contributed.