Energy Secretary Nominee Tried to Abolish Energy Department

WASHINGTON, DC, January 8, 2001 (ENS) - Defeated Michigan Senator Spencer Abraham has been nominated for a cabinet position as Secretary of Energy in the incoming Republican administration of George W. Bush. This nomination puts Abraham in the position of potentially heading a government department that he attempted to abolish when he was a senator.

In 1999, then Senator Abraham co-sponsored S.896, the Department of Energy Abolishment Act. The bill sought "the complete abolishment of the Department of Energy" and its reestablishment as the Energy Programs Resolution Agency, an independent agency in the executive branch of the government.

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Spencer Abraham has been nominated to head the Department of Energy in the incoming Bush administration. (Photos courtesy Office of the Senator)
Sponsored by defeated Minnesota Senator Rod Grams, along with Abraham, the bill was introduced in the Senate on April 28, 1999, read twice and referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. No further action was taken on the bill.

Still, Abraham's support of this bill may serve as an indicator that the intention of the Bush administration is to get rid of the Department of Energy and parcel out its present functions to other government agencies.

Under the bill, the all nondefense energy laboratories or basic science programs "should be closed unless the laboratory performs a function that is essential to the needs of the United States, particularly a national security need." The purpose of the closure idea was "to eliminate duplication of effort by nondefense energy laboratories and basic science programs" and to "achieve cost savings."

The functions of the national defense laboratories - the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the Sandia National Laboratories would be transferred to the Under Secretary of Defense for Defense Nuclear Programs.

Under this bill, the Interior Department would have taken over the functions of the present Energy Information Administration which conducts analyses and forecasts of the nation's energy production and consumption patterns.

The Interior Department would also have taken over civilian energy research programs for nuclear energy, fossil fuels and renewable sources of power such as solar, wind, geothermal and biomass generation.

The Attorney General would have assumed all of the present functions of the administrator of the Energy Regulatory Administration.

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Senator Spencer Abraham in 1995, the first year of his term
The Secretary of the Army, through the Army Corps of Engineers, would have assumed the functions of the four power marketing administrations such as the Bonneville Power Administration.

If S.896 had become law, the Secretary of Defense would have taken over responsibility for the strategic petroleum reserves until the "disposal of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (other than the portions of the reserve that the Secretary proposes to retain in order to meet the national security interests of the United States). That disposal would have had to be made within three years of enactment of the law.

But today, as Bush's nominee for Secretary of Energy, Abraham no longer supports abolition of the department.

His spokesperson Angela Flood told ENS, "At the time when Senator Abraham cosponsored this legislation it was part of a streamlining effort. It is safe to say that in light of the current energy challenges facing the country he now sees value of a cabinet level position for the Department of Energy."

President-elect Bush is "confident that Senator Abraham would carry out the Bush administration's energy agenda," Flood said. He will implement the policies of the Bush administration "whatever they may be," she said.

Evidently, Abraham's sponsorship of the bill to abolish the Department of Energy did not stand in the way of his consideration for Energy Secretary. There was a question about the core mission of the department, but Bush is "not going to look at every bill any nominee has sponsored," said Flood.

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Senator Spencer Abraham later in his term
But others are looking at Abraham's environmental record. On June 21, 2000, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) named Abraham to its Dirty Dozen list of candidates it targeted for defeat in the November election. In its highest priority race, the LCV spent $705,000 in the successful campaign to defeat Abraham. He lost the Senate race to Democrat Debbie Stabenow.

The League of Conservation voters opposed Abraham because of his lifetime voting score of six out of 100 percent pro-environment votes during his six years in the Senate.

In 1995, he voted to cut the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency by $1.5 billion. In 1998, he voted against an amendment to the fiscal year 1999 budget that would have restored funding for clean water programs although Michigan beaches were, and still are, experiencing high levels of bacterial contamination.

The LCV blames Abraham for voting to weaken a community's right to know about toxics by supporting an amendment to eliminate up to 90 percent of the toxics that must now be reported under current law.

In 1999, Senator Abraham voted no on keeping CAFE fuel efficiency standards. He voted yes on removing funding for renewable and solar energy, and yes on approving an interim nuclear waste repository until a permanent repository can be sited and built.

Also in 1999, he voted yes on more funding for Forest Service road maintenance and wildlife and fisheries habitat management programs.

In 1998, Michigan Governor John Engler named Abraham the head of the campaign to pass his Clean Michigan environmental bond issue. This passed easily, and was widely seen as an attempt to boost Abraham's poll ratings.

Abraham is an attorney with a Harvard Law School degree. Before his election to the Senate, Abraham worked as chairman of the Michigan state Republican party. In 1990 Abraham became the deputy chief of staff for Vice President Dan Quayle in the administration of President George Bush, the father of the current President-elect. He also worked with the National Republican Congressional Committee.