President Donald Trump’s nominee to become secretary of Energy distanced himself Thursday from the House impeachment inquiry of the president, telling senators he does not have direct knowledge of efforts to overhaul the board of a Ukrainian government-owned energy firm.
Speaking at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Dan Brouillette, the No. 2 at DOE, said he was aware Secretary Rick Perry met with people interested in changing the corporate structure of Naftogaz, the Ukrainian company.
“I am aware that the secretary met on occasion with individuals who were asking for assistance with the restructuring if you will or reorganization of the state-owned enterprise,” Brouillette told Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., declining to list specific names.
“I was not” involved in those conversations, Brouillette said. “I am not aware of any conversations between the secretary and anyone at Naftogaz.” Perry has met at least twice with company executives.
Links between the Trump administration and Naftogaz have become a point of interest in the House impeachment investigation. Brouillette does not appear to be directly tied with any administration effort to strong-arm the Ukrainian government into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden in exchange for military aid.
Perry, who is resigning his job as DOE secretary by the year’s end, said in October he “absolutely” encouraged Trump to call Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in July to discuss energy issues, but not to pressure authorities there to investigate Biden or his son Hunter.
Brouillette has been deputy secretary at DOE since 2017, when the Senate confirmed him 79-17.
Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., ranking member on the committee, said on Thursday he will vote for him.
A former executive with Ford Motor Co. and USAA, Brouillette on Thursday morning endorsed the idea of mining the Arctic to dig up minerals for electric batteries and touted the American emission reductions.
So-called “critical minerals,” such as lithium and cobalt, are needed to build high-tech equipment like batteries.
“The Arctic is potentially a resource for those types of minerals,” Brouillette said.
Brouillette, who has been a staunch critic of the Paris climate agreement of 2015, also applauded reductions of greenhouse gas emissions since the mid-2000s.
“Through the power of innovation, the United States is leading the world in both energy production and the reduction of emissions,” he said, citing EPA statistics that show national emissions have fallen 13 percent since 2005.
The U.S. had been lowering its emissions since the middle of the previous decade, and continued to lower them, in part due to the recession that followed the economic collapse of 2008.
But emissions are now rising under the Trump administration, which has made cutting environmental regulations a pillar of its agenda.
Brouillette and his wife, Adrienne, have been active Republican donors for years.
In 2013, they gave $100,000 to a PAC for Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, when he was running for the White House, and $61,600 to the Republican National Committee.
They also gave $5,000 to a campaign fund for his eventual boss, Perry, who was running for president at the time.