House energy chairman Greg Walden eyes new direction for Energy Department

Rep. Greg Walden, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is looking to shake up the Energy Department this fall, with a comprehensive review and new legislation that would take the agency from the 1970s when it was established to the 21st century.

“What should the [Energy Department] of 2018 look like as opposed to the agency that was created in the days of energy scarcity under Jimmy Carter? It’s time to do a look,” said Walden in an interview with E&E News published on Monday.

The Republican from Oregon also noted that the Energy Department had not been fully reauthorized since its creation in 1977.

He has charged Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, the panel’s vice chairman, to lead the energy department review this fall with the goal of drafting a reauthorization bill.

Barton was the panel’s chairman when the Energy Policy Act of 2005 was passed as one of the last comprehensive energy bills to be signed into law. Barton, as a Texan, is an ally of Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the Lone Star State’s former governor, and is a proponent of oil and gas development and nuclear power.

Barton said he began drafting the reauthorization bill during the August recess, in advance of possible hearings and industry roundtables this fall, according to E&E.

Walden wants the bill to address several questions, including what the Energy Department’s priorities are and how the organizational structure might need to be tweaked going forward.

“I am not going to prejudge that,” he said. “But that is first of all what we should look at. Do we have the right priorities in place for the energy world we are now in?”

Walden also wants to better understand the direction of the agency’s 17 national research labs, most of which have been targeted for steep cuts under President Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget request.

Walden also said the Energy Department review should address the role of the agency in addressing threats to the nation’s electricity grid from cyber and physical attacks.

However, Walden is remaining on the fence when it comes to restarting the energy bill debate from last Congress.

House conferees stalled negotiations on a comprehensive energy bill last fall after it made it to the final stage before sending it to the president’s desk. House leaders on the bill’s conference committee said they would look for a better deal under President Trump.

Walden was not chairman during the last Congress when Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., led the panel, and wasn’t privy to the negotiations. At this point, he remains noncommittal when it comes to working with the Senate on a new comprehensive bill that leaders on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources have already begun working on.

“I was not party to any of that at the time, so I don’t know what all caused that to blow up. I know it did blow up, and there were some hard feelings over that,” said Walden.

Walden did say the bill had “a lot of good pieces,” but he did offer specific details on what those pieces were.

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