A Shot Across the Bow: Warning on U.S. LHC Contribution

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Publication date: 
6 March 1997


During a routine hearing this week of the House Science Committee's Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) told DOE officials that he would prevent "one thin dime" from being spent on hardware for CERN's Large Hadron Collider by the federal government until certain conditions are met. Although Barton admitted that he did not know how much support he had for his position on Capitol Hill, his statement and demeanor made it clear that he should not be ignored. Barton's district is the site of the now-abandoned Superconducting Super Collider.

Barton's statement was made as this authorizing subcommittee reviewed DOE's Office of Energy Research's budget request for FY 1998. ER Director Martha Krebs was the witness for the first half of this hearing. Barton, who is a member of the full committee, asked permission of new subcommittee chair Ken Calvert (R-CA) to sit in for the Q&A session. When it was Barton's turn, he got right to the point. He asked Krebs how much money CERN nations had contributed to the SSC's construction. When Krebs said she did not know, Barton vigorously said, "None." His sentiments toward the LHC's effectiveness compared with that of the SSC were unfavorable. He asked about CERN's willingness to contribute to the construction of the Next Linear Collider. Krebs said there had been no talks with CERN, although it was being discussed through the OECD's megascience forum. With that, Barton said he was going to do everything he could to see to it that not "one thin dime, D-I-M-E" is spent by DOE for LHC hardware until there is CERN agreement on their contribution to the Next Linear Collider. Looking Krebs straight in the eye, he said, "I mean it to the bottom of my toes.... If they help us, we will help them." He offered that it was acceptable for federal funds to be spent on "salaries" for U.S. scientists to work on the LHC. However, he was adamant about hardware, and while saying that he did not know how much support there was for his position, he would fight such an expenditure. Speaking of the SSC, Barton said, "I know where the bodies are buried." Krebs said that she understood his message. And with his mission accomplished, Barton left the hearing room.

This might be seen as the view of only one person, except that Rep. Tim Roemer (D-Indiana), who will probably be the subcommittee's ranking member, said, "I think Mr. Barton is asking some legitimate questions." Roemer contrasted DOE's request for the LHC [an advance DOE appropriation of $394 million in FY 1998 for funding through FY 2004, and additional NSF funding] with CERN's contribution to the SSC. Krebs said that DOE has made contributions to other foreign facilities, and described the LHC as the "only game" in town.

No one can predict what Rep. Barton's comments portend. Previous congressional sentiment toward the LHC has been generally favorable. However, it should be noted that there are new key players in the House having jurisdiction over DOE. Calvert is a new subcommittee chairman, as is full House Science Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin). The representative with major responsibility for drafting the FY 1998 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill is Rep. Joseph McDade (R-Pennsylvania), who is new to the subcommittee.

Barton was probably the SSC's strongest supporter in the House, and it was a bitter defeat for him to see it terminated in 1993. His comments yesterday (March 6) made it clear that he has not forgotten the Superconducting Super Collider.

A future FYI will summarize other aspects of this hearing.

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