Nov 29, 2017

Energy Department's fossil chief on climate change and the budget

Steve Winberg, who was sworn in just before Thanksgiving as the Energy Department's assistant secretary for fossil energy, on Tuesday deferred to Congress on the Trump administration's big budget cuts to his office and said it's not his job to set climate change policy.

Driving the news: Winberg, whose remarks at an event hosted Tuesday by the Center for Strategic and International Studies were his first on the new job, is in the hot seat because President Trump and his top advisers say they support robust development of technologies that capture carbon emissions from coal plants and other emitting facilities. Much of what happens on this issue will come down to his office, and so far it's not much.

On the budget cuts: "The president made it very clear that he wants DOE to be focused on basic, fundamental research and early stage research … Congress set the budget, and we'll manage the budget accordingly based on what Congress appropriates for us."

Reality check: The office Winberg oversees would receive a 54% budget cut under Trump's proposal, though Congress is expected to keep funding mostly the same.

On whether he thinks climate change is a reason to invest in carbon capture technology: "We are not going to stop using fossil energy any time soon, so if we're going to go on an aggressive path to carbon reduction, [carbon capture] has to be part of the answer." And later to reporters: "I think it's not my job to set policy on climate change. It's my job to develop technologies that might address climate change, but would address a lot of other issues as well."

Reality check: Captured carbon is put to use in other ways, such as to extract oil in certain geological formations, but to really develop the capture technology on a broad, commercial basis, experts who spoke after Winberg agreed there needs to be explicit climate policy.

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