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Rep. Holt, Nobel Laureates Call for Clean Energy R&D Funding

Richard M. Jones
Number 96 - July 22, 2009  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and 34 Nobel Laureates have called for changes to be made in the House-passed climate change bill to increase funding for the development of new clean energy technologies. Holt raised his concerns during House consideration of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. The Nobel Laureates discussed this same concern in a letter sent to President Obama last week.

H.R. 2454 requires the United States to reduce its 2005 level of carbon emissions by 17 percent by 2020, and by 80 percent by 2050. The bill passed the House on a vote of 219 to 212. The bill was sponsored by House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA), who managed the bill during its House floor consideration on June 26.

During debate on the legislation, Holt and Waxman, using a prearranged colloquy (or conversational exchange) discussed R&D funding. Holt first outlined his concerns as follows:

“Energy, climate and environment are principal subjects that I have spoken about and worked on for decades, before and since I first came to Congress and to work on these issues, I believe, is a principal reason my constituents sent me to Congress. I admire the chairman's skill in assembling a bill, and I fully support the chairman's efforts to reduce the release of greenhouse gases. However, I'm deeply concerned that the bill does not include the research funding necessary to reach the target of 80 percent emission reduction set in the bill. We must transform the way we produce and use energy. We cannot meet this goal with today's technologies; and this bill, as written, will not provide the billions of dollars needed to fund and develop the future technologies.

“So I'm here to ask the chairman of the committee if I may have his assurance that he will work with me to increase the amount of research and development funding in this bill and other legislation that we need in order to reduce our reliance on foreign fuels and to slow the rate of growth of climate change.”

Chairman Waxman then replied:

“I thank the gentleman for his comments. There is much in this bill to promote research and to bring about the necessary innovation.” “However, I agree that we will need billions more in research and development funding into new innovative ways to produce and use energy. I pledge to work with you to provide additional funding for energy research and development in this bill as this bill moves forward.”

Holt returned to this topic later that day:

“I remain deeply concerned that this bill does not include the necessary research and development funding that is needed to reach the 80 percent reduction target set in H.R. 2425. We will not be able to meet this goal with today's technologies, and as written, the bill does not provide the billions of dollars a year that will be needed to develop them. This is not a small or parochial concern. If Americans and others around the world are to embrace a transformation in the way we use and produce energy, they must know that our effort includes the engine to drive the innovation for that transformation. Without a very robust research effort - many billions of dollars - the vision of transformation will be a mirage and the public will know it. I have been assured by Chairman Waxman, [Select Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee] Chairman [Edward] Markey [D-MA], [House] Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi [D-CA], members of the Administration and members of the Senate that they understand this shortcoming and that they will work with me to increase the research funding to drive the innovation we need to transform the way we produce and use energy.”

The bill is now pending in the Senate. It is expected that the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, chaired by Barbara Boxer (D-CA), will mark up a bill in September.

The lack of sufficient funding in H.R. 2454 was the subject of a July 16 letter to President Barack Obama. Signed by 34 Nobel Laureates, it calls for a “stable” $15 billion to be invested annually in energy research, development, and demonstration. The letter is as follows:

“Dear Mr. President:

“You have repeatedly and appropriately called for a Clean Energy Technology Fund of $150 billion over ten years that could be funded from receipts collected from a greenhouse gas cap and trade program. The stable support this Fund would provide is essential to pay for the research and development needed if the U.S., as well as the developing world, are to achieve their goals in reducing greenhouse gases at an affordable cost.

“This stable R&D spending is not a luxury. It is in fact necessary because rapid scientific and technical progress is crucial to achieving these goals, and to making the cost affordable.

“We are concerned that ‘The American Clean Energy and Security Act’ (H.R. 2454) that recently passed the House provides less than one fifteenth of the amount you proposed for federal energy research, development, and demonstration programs. The legislation provides no stable, specific funding for sustained research in the Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Science, or for the energy research and associated technology development programs of DOE (at the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Electricity Deliverability, Fossil, and Nuclear offices).

“Given the expected growing federal budget deficits, and the corresponding pressure on the government’s discretionary budget, this is a serious deficiency.

“We hope that you will urge the Congress to send you a bill that will invest in energy research, development, and demonstration at an amount approaching the stable $15 billion annual support that you have proposed.

“We stand ready to assist you in any way we can.

“Signed,

Paul Berg, Physics 1980
Stanley Cohen, Physiology or Medicine 1986
Robert F. Curl, Jr., Chemistry 1996
Johann Deisenhofer, Chemistry 1988
Val L. Fitch, Physics 1980
Jerome Friedman, Physics 1990
Sheldon Glashow, Physics 1979
Roy Glauber, Physics 2005
Dudley R. Herschbach, Chemistry 1986
Wolfgang Ketterle, Physics 2001
Roger D. Kornberg, Chemistry 2006
Herbert Kroemer, Physics 2000
Robert B. Laughlin, Physics 1998
Leon Lederman, Physics 1988
Anthony Leggett, Physics 2003
John Mather, Physics 2006
Marshall Nirenberg, Medicine 1968
George A. Olah, Chemistry 1994
Douglas Osheroff, Physics 1996
Arno Penzias, Physics 1978
Martin L. Perl, Physics 1995
William D. Phillips, Physics 1997
David Politzer, Physics 2004
Robert C. Richardson, Physics 1996
Burton Richter, Physics 1976
F. Sherwood Rowland, Chemistry 1995
Phillip A. Sharp, Physiology or Medicine 1993
George Smoot, Physics 2006
Horst Stormer, Physics 1998
Richard Taylor, Physics 1990
Daniel Tsui, Physics 1998
Steven Weinberg, Physics 1979
Frank Wilczek, Physics 2004
Robert W. Wilson, Physics 1978"

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
rjones@aip.org
301-209-3095