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House Rejects Move to Increase FY 2013 ARPA-E Funding

Richard M. Jones
Number 83 - June 13, 2012  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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During recent House debate on the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill, an amendment was offered to increase funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy by shifting $133.4 million from the Department of Energy’s FY 2013 budget for fossil fuel R&D.  This amendment, offered by Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) was rejected by the House by a vote of 131-257.

ARPA-E’s current budget is $275.0 million.  The Obama Administration requested $350.0 million for FY 2013.  House appropriators provided $200.0 million in the bill.

The debate on this amendment follows:

Rep. Hirono:

“Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of the Hirono-Chu-Matsui-Lee-Carnahan amendment. This amendment will increase the resources for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E.

“In 2006, the National Academy of Sciences released a report titled, ‘Rising Above the Gathering Storm.’  That report called for the establishment of an agency focused on energy. That Agency would be modeled after the famous Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. Congress created ARPA-E in the 2007 America COMPETES Act. That legislation passed the House and Senate with strong bipartisan support.

“ARPA-E’s purpose is to support research that helps Americans lead a 21st-century clean-energy revolution.  This is about generating new ideas and innovations that lead to new jobs, industries, and opportunities. Ideas and innovations are the hallmarks of America’s economic success.  Names like Benjamin Franklin, the Wright brothers, Thomas Edison, Akio Morita, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and others are familiar to us all. They are familiar names across the globe. That’s because their ideas led to cutting-edge technologies that were widely adopted and put to use, changing our lives and society for the better.

“Some of these bold innovations were far ahead of their time and often succeeded with government support. For example, few know that, without government contracts for airmail, our commercial aviation industry would not have become so successful. It was research supported by both U.S. Government labs and the private sector that gave us the Internet. Most famously, who can forget President John F. Kennedy's call to put a man on the Moon? While this effort was successful from a technological perspective, it also captivated a generation of Americans, inspiring them to think big and think bold.

“It is vital to our Nation’s future success that we reinvigorate the spirit of innovation. If we do, we can harness the talent of our Nation’s people as we continue rebuilding our economy.

“That’s why supporting ARPA-E is so important. ARPA-E awardees are developing the kinds of breakthroughs that will help us break free from the grip of foreign oil and fossil fuels. In the past year alone, ARPA-E has supported research into high-tech electric car batteries. ARPA-E has supported potential breakthroughs in energy-grid technology and algae-based biofuels.  These are ideas that could change how the U.S. produces, uses, and transmits energy.

“Unfortunately, the bill before us takes a different tack. It actually cuts funding for the research and innovation sponsored by ARPA-E. Instead, it gives even more resources for research into mature energy sources. Last year, fossil fuel R&D received $346 million.  The bill before us provides $554 million for fossil fuel R&D. That is a $207 million increase. ARPA-E, on the other hand, gets a $75 million cut in this bill.

“My friend Warren Bollmeier, who is the head of the Hawaii Renewable Energy Alliance, once told me: The path we need to take to energy independence is one where we level the playing field for clean energy.  We all agree that energy independence is a critical national priority.   I think we can also agree that we need to take a broad-based approach to getting there. Responsible fossil fuel development must be part of this mix, but so should clean energy, which is what this amendment does.

“To increase the resources for ARPA-E, my amendment transfers some funds from the Fossil Fuel Research and Development programs. My amendment does not eliminate fossil fuel R&D. It would merely bring the funding level for this research to the amount requested by the administration. That number was nearly $420 million, and that’s still an increase of $73 million from last year.

“We know that innovation equals job creation. In fact, in States across the country, we are seeing the advantages of investing in clean-energy research, development, and deployment. We need to keep this forward momentum. In Hawaii, our clean-energy economy is growing. Private sector clean-energy jobs in Hawaii have grown to over 11,000 jobs with double-digit growth expected in the coming year. These firms generate $1.2 billion for our State economy.  These are jobs that keep money in our State and can’t be outsourced.

“At this time of tight budgets, we need to balance our priorities and lay the groundwork for the future. My amendment moves us in that direction.  I urge my colleagues to support this amendment.”

House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) replied:

“I rise in opposition to the gentlewoman’s amendment.  My colleague’s amendment would increase funding for ARPA-E to levels beyond what the program needs.  Our bill provides $200 million for ARPA-E because of its focus on energy security, American manufacturing and competitiveness and research to address gas prices; but we have continuing concerns that this program must not intervene where private capital markets are already acting. It must not fund work redundant with other programs at the Department of Energy.

“ARPA-E is only 3 years old and is still proving itself. Given how we must spend tax dollars wisely, it would simply not be prudent to give this young program its highest funding level ever.

This amendment would, unfortunately, do just that; therefore, I oppose it for that and for many other reasons.”

Speaking in favor of the amendment was Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA):

“I rise to join my colleagues in support of this amendment to restore funding to the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy, known as ARPA-E.  In the report language for this bill, the committee’s majority correctly notes that projects funded by ARPA-E ‘are capable of significantly changing the energy sector to address our critical economic and energy security challenges.’ This Agency is funding research to advance more efficient power transmission, energy storage, transportation fuel alternatives, energy-efficient buildings, and so much more. So it is puzzling that the committee would then recommend reducing the funding for activities that promote American energy and independence by 27 percent compared to the current funding and 43 percent below the President’s reasonable request.

“It is thanks to our strategic investments in R&D that we have captured the full benefit of America’s ideas and innovations through partnerships with the higher education community and the private sector. More than half of the Nation’s economic growth since World War II can be traced to science driven technology research and innovation that has stemmed from that partnership.  It was central to our ability to capitalize in the space race in the 1960s.  Since then, the magnitude of research supported by the Federal Government has actually grown and revolutionized health care, transportation, the digital economy and, yes, energy delivery and efficiency.

“For example, a Federal energy grant at Georgia Tech evolved into a private company, Suniva, that manufactures solar energy cells that are cost competitive with fossil fuels. In fact, the company technology was named the world’s best commercially applied innovation in 2010. So it’s unfortunate to see the majority continue a pattern of disinvestment in basic research, which typically yields a two- to-one return on investment. Cuts like this actually wind up costing our country in the long run. The real question is: Who is going to fill that gap if we start to retreat on this historic partnership? The answer: our foreign competitors. It’s already happening, Mr. Chairman. More than half of U.S. patents were granted to foreign companies in 2009. China is now the world’s leading high-tech exporter, and we rank 27th in the number of graduates with science or engineering degrees.

“On a related note, I would highlight another issue of which the majority is paying lip service to the need to address the shortage of American scientists and innovators. The report language correctly expresses concern with the long-term science, technology, engineering, and math workforce development pipeline, particularly for underrepresented minority students.  Yet the majority then continues to underfund the very programs aimed at supporting strong teachers and scientists to recruit and train the next generation of innovators.

“Mr. Chairman, we need to invest more, not less, in these Federal research partnerships. I urge my colleagues to restore these vital funds so we can continue to nurture promising industries, provide entrepreneurs with skills and capital and allow American companies to be globally competitive and help American workers get jobs.”

House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Peter Visclosky (D-IN) then spoke:

“Mr. Chairman, I rise in very reluctant opposition to the gentlelady’s amendment, as well as remarks issued by the gentleman from Virginia. I certainly appreciate their desire relative to the good work being done at ARPA–E. 

“The two points I would make in opposition is that, first of all, the gentlewoman was absolutely correct on the top-line figures for fossil fuel, but I do think they are somewhat misleading because there is a rescission contained within the bill for $187 million. The true reflection, as far as the relationship between current year spending and the proposal in the House bill, is for fiscal year 2012. Fossil fuel is at $534 million. The proposal in the subcommittee mark and the committee reported bill is $554 million.

“Again, appreciating deeply the very good work and cultural change that is taking place within the Department of Energy because of ARPA–E, I would also point out that energy consumption today by fossil fuel is represented by about 83 percent of our utilization.  We do need to continue to be focused on that huge segment of current use to be more efficient and to reduce our carbon footprint.”

The next member to speak was Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA):

“Mr. Chair, I rise in support of the amendment to increase the resources for the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy, or ARPA–E.  ARPA–E invests in the success of our entrepreneurs by allowing them to innovate in high-reward energy projects. This critical investment turns ideas into new technologies, which create new companies and even whole industries. These companies start out as small businesses, which we know are the greatest drivers of our economy. ARPA–E is exactly the kind of forward thinking we need to spur American innovation and create well-paying jobs in cutting-edge fields.

“ARPA–E is also vital to achieving the kind of 21st century energy solutions America needs to increase our energy efficiency, lower consumer costs, and curb the damage to our environment. While other countries around the world are promoting these kinds of programs, we are letting ourselves fall behind. In the midst of one of the worst recessions in U.S. history, we are turning our backs on energy innovation, where we once led the way. This makes no sense, and it must stop.  We should not be cutting ARPA–E, we should be expanding it. That is exactly what this amendment will do.

“ARPA–E gives universities, entrepreneurs, and other innovators resources to develop their ideas. It holds forums to bring researchers together to share expertise, and educate future innovators. Some research ARPA–E has supported includes high-tech electric car batteries, breakthroughs in energy grid technologies, and algae-based biofuels. These developments hold the power to revolutionize the way America produces and consumes energy.  This is not science-fiction; it is already science-fact. But it needs the support and vision of my colleagues in Congress in order to continue.

“In my home State of California we have ambitious energy standards that we need to work hard to meet in the next few years. The underlying bill increases research and development funds for fossil fuels by $207 million more than these programs received last year. We are going backwards.

“This amendment does not gut fossil fuels research and development, but it does bring funding levels in line with the President’s request while increasing funding for ARPA–E in line with the President’s request.  Let’s stop going backwards; let’s stop selling America short. Instead, let America do what it does best: innovate, grow, and lead.  I strongly encourage my colleagues to support this amendment.”

Richard M. Jones
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics