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Cabinet secretary bingo

Michael Regan, Deb Haaland and Jennifer Granholm

Regan, Haaland and Granholm talk to reporters in 2022. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

This week's testimony from President Biden's agency chiefs gave us some tea leaves on fiscal 2025 and the issues that agencies will focus on this budget cycle.

Why it matters: Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm talked up advanced nuclear, while EPA Administrator Michael Regan discussed filling hundreds of open jobs and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland got roasted over her agency's treatment of Alaska natives.

1. Data center tie-ins: Granholm told Energy and Commerce's energy subcommittee Wednesday that she sees promise in developing small modular reactors alongside new data centers.

  • This is something Granholm has referenced before; she told Axios recently she wants to "accelerate" talks with Big Tech on powering its energy-hungry facilities.
  • Those companies, she said, have enough money "to do some of those small modular reactors in partnership with their data centers so that they're not pulling from the grid."
  • One idea she floated: tying permits for data centers to construction of an SMR so that they're not "socializing those costs across the rate base."
  • Granholm also reiterated her commitment to using AI to speed up National Environmental Policy Act permitting. The administration just announced $30 million in IRA funding to integrate AI and other new tech into the permitting process.

2. EPA's rocky road: It's going to be another tough budget cycle for EPA, as the agency tries furiously to increase its workforce to develop Biden's regulatory agenda and meet the demands of IRA programming.

  • Regan told House appropriators Tuesday that he's trying to hire 2,000 new employees (similar to last year's budget request) but also has roughly 700 unfilled positions.
  • Republicans sounded highly unlikely to comply.
  • The hearing also made clear that EPA rules — namely WOTUS, auto emissions and power plants — will again be prime targets for GOP approps riders and repeal should Donald Trump win back the White House.
  • "There is no such thing as an EPA EV mandate," Regan said in a testy exchange with Rep. Jake Ellzey.

3. Haaland's tribes tussle: Haaland's appearance before Natural Resources Wednesday morning offered little new info, but the partisan fireworks highlighted a key GOP focus: resources and Alaska tribal relations.

  • Republicans Pete Stauber and Tom Tiffany hammered Haaland over the department's handling of the Ambler mining road and National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, citing support from some Alaska Natives.
  • Criticizing the first Indigenous Cabinet secretary on the matter was a bridge too far for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who broke from her questioning to defend Haaland, a former House colleague.
  • "This woman has served on this dais too, and I had a front-row seat to how she advocated for Native communities here," Ocasio-Cortez said.
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