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Paul asks Perry to support cleanup funding in Paducah

By JOHN PFEIFER jpfeifer@paducahsun.com

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul met this week with Rick Perry, the nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Energy, and said he stressed the need to continue funding cleanup efforts at the DOE's Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

"We invited him to come to Paducah, and I think there's a very good chance he will come in the next year," Paul told The Sun Thursday.

A resolution passed by Congress last month keeps annual funding for the cleanup at $266.5 million. Although the resolution ends on April 28 and a three-year contract with primary cleanup contractor Flour Federal Service ends in July, Paul said, "I think ultimately the contract for cleanup will continue."

He said that the DOE's recent agreement to sell depleted uranium to GE bodes well for the economy of western Kentucky.

Of the plant's 3,556-acre site, Paul said, "I think it is and can become an asset to economic development and attracting new companies and new jobs to Paducah."

In response to a question about Perry succeeding two energy secretaries who possessed doctorates in science, Paul responded: "The position is a lot more manager than scientist. We want someone who can manage a big concern, and the state of Texas qualifies." He said that Perry would surround himself with engineers and scientists but focus on running the department.

"I think he'll do a good job," Paul said of Perry. "He attracted a lot of jobs to Texas while he was governor" and many were energy-related. Paul said that he would expect funding for the Department of Energy - and most other federal departments -- to decrease.

"If anyone thinks the status quo is going to work," Paul said, "they haven't been paying attention. He'll look for savings everywhere."

Paul pointed out his recent vote against a Republican-proposed budget bill "that would have expanded the deficit" as showing his commitment to holding the line on federal spending.

During The Sun's interview with Paul, Perry's confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources was concluding.

In his testimony, Perry said, "My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking. In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination."

During a 2011 Republican primary debate, Perry suggested eliminating three cabinet offices but could not recall the Department of Energy as one of the three. When questioned at Thursday's hearing about President-elect Trump's call to severely cut the Department of Energy budget, he quipped, "Maybe they'll have the same experience I had and forget they said that."

On another issue, Paul emphasized the need for Congress to pass a replacement health care bill when it repeals the Affordable Care Act.

"I was annoyed with those Republicans who said we wouldn't or shouldn't have a replacement in place before repealing Obamacare," Paul said.

"We have a replacement bill I think we'll be able to introduce on Tuesday or Wednesday," he said, adding that a draft version had already been circulated.

Paul expressed optimism that a new "less costly" health care law would be approved within weeks.

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