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By Adria Schwarber
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden rolled out campaign proposals this summer that include major increases in federal R&D spending, with a focus on clean energy and emerging technologies. His infrastructure-focused $1.7 trillion energy climate plan calls for spending $400 billion over ten years on clean energy R&D, and his Made in All of America initiative to foster new manufacturing jobs proposes spending $300 billion on R&D over four years.
In a July speech on the initiative, Biden said the $300 billion would be used to “sharpen Americans’ competitive edge in the new industries where global leadership is up for grabs, like battery technology, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, clean energy.” The full text of the plan posted on his campaign website mentions additional priority research areas, including advanced materials, health, aerospace, automotive technology, and telecommunications. It indicates the money would go toward ramping up the budgets of agencies such as the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy as well as creating an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health.
Aiming to ensure such investments produce equitable outcomes, the plan proposes to recapture a portion of the royalties from inventions arising from federally funded research, implement employee protections against negative consequences of new workplace technologies, and distribute funding more broadly across regions and demographic groups. One such proposal involves launching a $35 billion initiative to create research centers at Minority Serving Institutions and strengthen their graduate programs in STEM and other fields.
Biden’s climate plan sets a target of the US reaching net-zero emissions by no later than 2050 through a combination of R&D, infrastructure investments, and emissions reduction regulations, among other means. One plank involves establishing a “cross-agency” entity called ARPA-C that would focus on developing “game-changing” clean energy technologies such as grid-scale energy storage, small modular nuclear reactors, and carbon capture methods. The plan also states Biden would reenter the 2015 Paris climate agreement on the first day of his administration and later convene a world summit to secure emissions reduction pledges that go beyond existing commitments.
What role vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris might take in science policy remains to be defined. Although she has not established a deep track record in the area during her nearly four years as a Democratic senator for California, she has sponsored legislation focused on social issues in STEM. For instance, she is the lead Senate sponsor of the Combating Sexual Harassment in STEM Act, which would require research institutions to report harassment-related actions taken against grantees back to their funding agencies.
She has also taken up the cause of environmental justice, which is likewise a feature of Biden’s climate plan. She recently sponsored bills that seek to enhance protections for vulnerable communities against environmental harms, including by proposing to create an environmental justice office within the White House tasked with considering the impacts of regulatory proposals on low-income communities.
Harris is the first Black woman and first person of South Asian descent to be on a major party’s presidential ticket, and the first to have graduated from a Historically Black College or University. In her own presidential campaign, she proposed investing $60 billion in STEM research and education at HBCUs and other Minority Serving Institutions. Harris’ mother Shyamala Gopalan was a cancer researcher who moved to the US from India to pursue her graduate education, and Harris frequently cites her influence when advocating for the sciences.
Upon introducing the harassment prevention bill in 2019, she remarked in a statement, “As the daughter of a barrier-breaking woman in STEM research, I know the importance of ensuring more women enter and excel in this field.”
The author is Science Policy Analyst at FYI.
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