Trump energy pick faces questions on coal, nuclear power

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump’s pick to run the U.S. Energy Department faced questions on emissions from energy operations and the future of nuclear power at his U.S. Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday, but was greeted warmly by senators from both parties who want to see him quickly confirmed.

FILE PHOTO: Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy Dan Brouillette attends a meeting of the "Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas" (III ECPA) in Vina del Mar, Chile, September 7, 2017 REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido/File Photo

Dan Brouillette, 57, a former lobbyist at Ford Motor Co and Louisiana state energy regulator, would replace Rick Perry, who has said he is stepping down on Dec. 1.

Perry became known as one of the “three amigos” in a side-channel Ukraine policy led by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, that has been at the center of the Trump impeachment probe. But Perry has said he was not involved in any conversations where former Vice President Joe Biden was brought up.

Senator Joe Manchin, the top Democrat on the Senate Energy Committee, emphasized the vast U.S. energy resources in his remarks to Brouillette and assured him: “I just want you to know you’re going to have partners with you, we want you to succeed,” indicating broad support from lawmakers of both parties.

Brouillette, currently the department’s deputy secretary, faced questions from Manchin and Senator Ron Wyden, another Democrat, about his involvement in Ukraine. But Brouillette said his involvement was strictly about how U.S. energy supplies could help the country, and that he was not in any of the conversations being probed in the U.S. House.

If, as expected, he is confirmed by the Senate Energy Committee and then by the full Senate, Brouillette will work to carry out Trump’s “energy dominance” agenda of boosting U.S. production of oil and natural gas.

Brouillette told Republican senators from Wyoming and Louisiana that he supports technology on curbing climate change by capturing and storing underground carbon dioxide from coal and natural gas facilities, adding that fossil fuels would power a large portion of global energy needs for the next 40 to 50 years.

“If that’s the case, then I think we have an obligation if we care about the climate ... we have to get these technologies off the shelf and into the market.”

He said he did not fully understand issues with capturing carbon and storing it from natural gas operations and that the department’s laboratories could ramp up study on that.

Brouillette also said he wants to support development of advanced nuclear power plants, hopefully one day bringing microreactors that provide relatively small amounts of power to remote places like rural Louisiana, where he was born, to Alaska.

Brouillette was a member of Louisiana’s Mineral and Energy Board from 2013 to 2016. Before that, he served at the Energy Department as an assistant secretary for congressional and intergovernmental affairs under former President George W. Bush.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican and chair of the energy committee said she was looking for quick transition for Brouillette to become secretary but did not announce a committee vote.

Democratic senators not on the Energy Committee, including Ed Markey and Tim Kaine, sent Brouillette a letter on Wednesday asking whether he supported nonproliferation standards in any deal on sharing U.S. nuclear power technology with Saudi Arabia, a question he will likely continue to face if he is confirmed.

Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Peter Cooney and Tom Brown