APS News

APS Council Approves Three Statements on Energy Issues

The APS Council approved three statements on energy-related issues at its meeting in May. The first statement expressed concern over proposed large budget cuts for the DOE's Office of Energy Research for FY 1998 and beyond. The second urged sustained support for plasma and fusion science, which is faced a one-third cut in its budget for FY 1996. The third statement called for continued and diversified investments in energy research and development, and policies. The complete text of the three statements follows.

COUNCIL STATEMENT ON THE OFFICE OF ENERGY RESEARCH
The Council of The American Physical Society is gravely concerned that some policy documents and budget scenarios for FY 1998 and beyond plan large cuts to the DOE's Office of Energy Research, one of the primary sponsors of science in the United States. The cuts being considered would seriously damage a major component of the nation's outstanding basic research activities, in universities as well as national laboratories. They would threaten our nation's quality of life, future economic competitiveness and military security. The Council urges planners to rectify this situation and make budgetary adjustments accordingly.

For more than half a century, every Congress and every President has recognized the unique role of science in sustaining the nation's world-power status. They have consistently given federal investment in basic research strong bipartisan backing. In spite of extraordinary budgetary pressures, leaders in both political parties continue to maintain this bipartisan commitment. They have properly identified the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as key sponsors of scientific research. However, they have overlooked the prominent roles played by some programs in the mission agencies. This is now particularly true of the Office of Energy Research (OER).

More generally, among federal agencies, the DOE through OER is the leading supporter of basic research in the physical sciences, accounting for almost as much federal spending as NASA, the Department of Defense and the NSF, combined. In support of basic research as a whole, the DOE ranks third among federal agencies. With its progenitors, the Atomic Energy Commission and the Energy Research and Development Administration, DOE-funded research has led to more than sixty Nobel prizes, attesting to the high quality and impact of the work it supports.

The science base built through OER support over the past several decades has generated a wealth of technological advances that have dramatically improved the energy security of our nation. Research supported by OER has also made major contributions to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and medical isotopes; composite materials used in military hardware and motor vehicles; and x-ray diagnostics of computer chips and other high-tech materials. The OER has provided a vital complement to the support of basic research carried out by NSF and NIH and programs in other mission agencies. The OER, for example, as part of its radiation health and safety mission, initiated the human genome project and currently provides approximately one-third of all of its federal funding.

The Council of The American Physical Society strongly urges policy planners not to make short-term decisions which reduce DOE's crucial basic research activities. Proposed cuts would diminish our quality of life and our nation's future economic competitiveness and military security.

COUNCIL STATEMENT ON PLASMA PHYSICS AND FUSION SCIENCE
The American Physical Society stresses the scientific importance of plasma physics and fusion research, and the need for a research environment that encourages fundamental, long-term investigation. The one-third reduction in support of programs in plasma and fusion research in FY 1996 endangers this area of scientific research. Further cuts to these programs would seriously damage this important field. Once dismantled, these research programs may take decades to rebuild. The Council of the American Physical Society urges sustained support for plasma and fusion science by the U.S. government.

COUNCIL STATEMENT ON "ENERGY: THE FORGOTTEN CRISIS"
Our nation's complacency about the energy problem is dangerous. While the understandable result of currently abundant supplies of energy at low prices, such complacency is short-sighted and risky. Low-cost oil resources outside the Persian Gulf region are rapidly being depleted, increasing the likelihood of sudden disruptions in supply. Energy-related urban air pollution has become a world-wide threat to human health. Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, other greenhouse gases and aerosols are climbing; this will cause changes in temperature, precipitation, sea level, and weather patterns that may damage both human and natural systems.

The introduction of non-fossil-fuel energy sources, new ways of producing and using fossil fuels, and a myriad of energy-efficient technologies have helped to improve our energy security and to reduce environmental stress. In an era of growing global energy demand, such innovations must continue.

The Council of The American Physical Society urges continued and diversified investments in energy research and development, as well as policies that promote efficiency and innovation throughout the energy system. Such investments and policies are essential to ensure an adequate range of options in the decades ahead. Our national security, our environmental well-being, and our standard of living are at stake.


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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin