Energy nominee distances himself from Ukraine investigation

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Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Secretary of Energy nominee Dan Brouillette is sworn for a hearing on his nomination, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON, DC – The deputy to outgoing Energy Secretary Rick Perry told lawmakers Thursday that he had no role in the Ukraine matters now at the heart of the House’s impeachment investigation as he tried to distance himself from the controversy with the Senate considering his Cabinet nomination.

Dan Brouillette recounted the department’s efforts to promote natural gas exports to Ukraine, but he denied any knowledge of or role in conversations involving President Donald Trump’s push for Ukraine to investigate Trump’s political rival Joe Biden or son Hunter.

“I have not been involved in any of the conversations that are related to the House inquiry,” Brouillette told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Perry had been one of the longest-serving members of a Cabinet roiled by scandals and resignations. But his last months at the agency have been clouded by questions about what he knew and did about Trump’s drive for a Ukraine investigation of Hunter Biden, who was a board member on a Ukraine gas company.

Perry says he knew nothing about Trump’s campaign-related agenda in Ukraine and that his planned Dec. 1 departure from the agency is not related to the scandal.

Asked by a Democratic lawmaker if he would honor any possible subpoena to testify before impeachment investigators, Brouillete said he would have to consult with White House lawyers. The White House has told administration employees not to comply.

Brouillette is a military veteran, former businessman and energy official who twice before has won Senate confirmation.

He is the second-in-command at the department, responsible for day-to-day operations, and there are no public accounts of possible conflicts of interest or other major scandals directly touching him. Brouillette largely faced cordial questions from senators on energy, nuclear weapons and waste, and other matters.

While the administration has promoted oil and gas, Brouillette’s first remarks at the hearing stressed the department’s research work from supercomputers to quantum science. Directors of some of the country’s 17 national research laboratories sat behind him in a show of support.

Brouillette also referred repeatedly to working to improve battery storage, the big technological jump needed to bolster the grid reliance of solar, wind and other renewable energy.

Perry, a former Texas governor, seemed to reflexively promote U.S. fossil fuels but also supported carbon-free renewables in a more low-key way. Brouillette endorsed an “all of the above” energy policy promoting oil, gas, nuclear and renewables.

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., complained of “extreme radical” policies that he said were forcing the closing of a coal-fired power plant in his state

Brouillette offered support for coal, but conditioned it by saying coal was needed until researchers are able to increase battery storage for other forms of energy.

For older forms of energy, “it’s important to remain on line until we have the answers” on that, Brouillette said.

Supporters of U.S. coal, which is seeing mines and plants close as cheaper natural gas and renewables outcompete it in the market, argue the ability to stockpile coal makes it essential to the energy grid.