The Energy Department isn’t working to lower gasoline prices directly, Secretary Steven Chu said Tuesday after a Republican lawmaker scolded him for his now-infamous 2008 comment that gas prices in the U.S. should be as high as in Europe.
Instead, DOE is working to promote alternatives such as biofuels and electric vehicles, Chu told House appropriators during a hearing on DOE’s budget.
But Americans need relief now, Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R-Miss.) said — not high gasoline prices that could eventually push them to alternatives.
“I can’t look at motivations. I have to look at results. And under this administration the price of gasoline has doubled,” Nunnelee told Chu.
“The people of north Mississippi can’t be here, so I have to be here and be their voice for them,” Nunnelee added. “I have to tell you that $8 a gallon gasoline makes them afraid. It’s a cruel tax on the people of north Mississippi as they try to go back and forth to work. It’s a cloud hanging over economic development and job creation.”
Chu expressed sympathy but said his department is working to lower energy prices in the long term.
“We agree there is great suffering when the price of gasoline increases in the United States, and so we are very concerned about this,” said Chu, speaking to the House Appropriations energy and water subcommittee. “As I have repeatedly said, in the Department of Energy, what we’re trying to do is diversify our energy supply for transportation so that we have cost-effective means.”
Chu specifically cited a reported breakthrough announced Monday by Envia Systems, which received funding from DOE’s ARPA-E, that could help slash the price of electric vehicle batteries.
He also touted natural gas as “great” and said DOE is researching how to reduce the cost of compressed natural gas tanks for vehicles.
High gasoline prices will make research into such alternatives more urgent, Chu said.
“But is the overall goal to get our price” of gasoline down, asked Nunnelee.
“No, the overall goal is to decrease our dependency on oil, to build and strengthen our economy,” Chu replied. “We think that if you consider all these energy policies, including energy efficiency, we think that we can go a long way to becoming less dependent on oil and [diversifying] our supply and we’ll help the American economy and the American consumers.”