Where's the Fracking Support in Obama's Budget?

The combination of increased natural gas use, energy efficiency and renewable energy has reduced the nation’s carbon emissions to their lowest levels since 1994, Wyden said, emphasizing the need to make sure hydraulic fracturing is environmentally sound.

“Abundant, low cost natural gas also provides our country with a competitive advantage over competitors in Europe and Asia whose costs are four or five times the costs of our manufacturers,” he said.

Poneman acknowledged that natural gas has proved to be “a game changer for this country,” jumping from 2 percent of the nation’s energy source to 35 percent in a short period of time.

“We are investing in the R&D where it’s helpful,” Poneman said. “There is leverage in the fact that we are not doing this alone,” maintaining that the agency is teaming up with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior to deal with fracking.

“We are making hard decisions on where the dollars go but I want to assure you that the dollars we have dedicated to this technology we believe are the right dollars,” he said.

Murkowski was equally perplexed by the department’s approach to hydropower, saying it was among the “forgotten renewables” that never received sufficient funding from DOE. The potential, she said, “is so untapped” yet “it doesn’t seem like a priority.”

Poneman said the proposed budget actually increases funding for hydropower development.

“It still looks pretty meager when you compare it to wind and solar,” Murkowski said.

Also on Thursday, the committee in a 21-1 vote approved and sent to the Senate floor the nomination of Dr. Ernest Moniz, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicist, to serve as the nation’s 12th secretary of Energy, succeeding Steve Chu, who resigned.

In an unusually quick session, Wyden said Moniz, the subject of a confirmation hearing last week, is “more than up to the challenge” of wrestling with the nation’s energy needs, noting that he will use “the best science and the most current data in considering the issues.”

Moniz, Wyden said, might actually be the first energy secretary, should he be confirmed, “who instead of having to confront energy shortages and scarcity would instead oversee an era of abundant carbon reducing natural gas and dramatic growth of renewable energy technologies.”

Murkowski urged other Republicans on the panel to support Moniz.

“I think he will focus on an energy policy that is affordable, abundant, clean, diverse and secure,” she said. “He recognizes that energy is good. He’s thoughtful, he’s considered.”

The lone holdout was Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who expressed concern that the administration’s plan to cut funding for a project to transform plutonium into nuclear reactor fuel will adversely affect his state.

“As his resume indicates, Dr. Moniz is a well-educated and experienced nominee. However, his lack of clarity on the future of the MOX program – a project critical to South Carolina and to the safe disposal of 34 tons of weapons grade plutonium, in keeping with our international treaties – led me to a ‘no’ vote today,” Scott said. “Clarity is something all too rare in Washington, and, as of today, Dr. Moniz’s position on the future of the MOX program is murky at best. Given what is at stake, that is unacceptable.”