Basic Research Funding in the FY ’09 Continuing Resolution Critical to Solving Energy Crisis

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Americans are digging deeper into their pockets to fill up at the pump, fretting about paying for home heating oil and worrying about the devastating effects of global warming. With a Continuing Resolution Bill for Fiscal Year 2009 looming this fall, Congress must not allow energy research funding to languish at Fiscal Year 2008 levels. To do so will set our nation further back on a course toward energy independence.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Basic Energy Sciences (BES) program responded to the U.S. energy crisis that has gripped the nation with proposals focused on solar, hydrogen and nuclear research. But funding that had been promised for the proposals did not materialize in the Fiscal Year 2008 Omnibus bill, leaving the plans on a shelf to collect dust.  

Additionally, scientists lost their jobs; grants and fellowships were cut; and facilities operations were scaled back at national laboratories. The nation’s $160 million contribution to the construction of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), was also cut from the budget, damaging America’s reputation as a reliable partner for the international fusion energy project.

“I was very excited about doing something to contribute to research that had the possibility of helping with the energy problem, and now I won’t work on that problem,” said Jim Freericks, a physics professor at Georgetown University, who submitted a proposal to BES to research converting solar energy into electricity using thermoelectric materials.

Sustainable solutions to our nation’s energy woes are within our reach, but policymakers must be willing to make the long-term commitment to the transformational technologies needed to rid the U.S. of dependence on foreign oil and to reduce global warming. Advanced technologies will lead to greater energy efficiency and move the country toward a green economy that will generate new jobs and a better quality of life for all Americans.

Congress should not repeat the mistake of the Fiscal Year 2008 budget, which sent the wrong message to aspiring scientists who are considering entering the science field. Instead of doubling funding as outlined in the America COMPETES Act, the budget failed to even provide for inflation-adjusted costs.

Investing in basic research reflects America’s pioneering heritage of pushing the frontiers of knowledge and has led to innovation, new jobs and unforeseen technological advances for our nation. If the country is to deal effectively with the ongoing energy crisis, it must not allow energy research funding to remain at the Fiscal Year 2008 level.

Instead, Congress and the Administration must work together to ensure that U.S. laboratories and universities have the necessary funding to develop advanced technologies and train the next generation of scientists to develop sustainable solutions to an energy crisis that is wrecking havoc in the lives of most Americans. 

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