Stevens pops top in Energy Dept. hearing

Posted: Friday, April 21, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Sen. Ted Stevens lit into Energy Secretary Bill Richardson in Washington, D.C., recently for delays in releasing federal money for a coalbed methane project near Chignik.

Stevens, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, paid a surprise visit to a hearing on the U.S. Department of Energy's budget last week, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

He chided Energy Secretary Bill Richardson for delays in releasing money for the coalbed methane development project near Chignik, on the southern coast of the Alaska Peninsula.

Richardson didn't release the Chignik grant for 18 months, meaning the money wasn't available in the fiscal year for which it was appropriated.

Other grants for hydropower projects in Cordova and Old Harbor and for diesel power and waste heat recovery projects in Sitka and Nome approved for this fiscal year also have been delayed, Stevens said.

''By what right do you impound congressional priorities, Mr. Secretary?'' Stevens asked. ''I'm thinking about offering an amendment to this bill that will prevent you from using any funds that are from your request or the president's request until you have released funds for congressional priorities.''

Richardson tried to defend himself, but Stevens was having none of it.

''It's not fair to us at all and you know it,'' Stevens continued. ''You're the only secretary I know that is doing this.''

''All I can know is that I got your project, and I looked at it, and I approved it,'' Richardson replied.

''Eighteen months?,'' Stevens asked. ''It took 18 months for this to come across your desk?''

''Apparently,'' Richardson said flatly.

The state is doing research into coalbed methane -- natural gas trapped in coal deposits -- to determine whether it could provide energy to parts of rural Alaska.

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