Efforts in the Senate to promote technology innovation as a way to combat climate change are beginning to progress. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has renewed his push to “double energy research funding,” while the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has begun to develop legislation to promote technology development and commercialization.
President Trump’s fiscal year 2020 budget request for the Department of Energy includes a $2 billion cut to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and smaller but still sizeable cuts to nuclear and fossil energy R&D programs. The request proposes increases for electric grid resilience programs that would support new R&D efforts.
Energy R&D has emerged as a focal point for bipartisan collaboration in the new Congress. At recent hearings, lawmakers heard testimony in favor of large spending increases spread across a variety of technologies.
Several federal agencies are working to curb foreign nations, particularly China, from using talent recruitment programs and other methods to capitalize on the fruits of U.S.-financed R&D. In the latest major development, the Department of Energy announced last week that it will restrict its employees and future grantees from participating in recruitment programs operated by “sensitive” countries.
Over the past two years, Congress passed legislation updating and endorsing a wide range of federal R&D activities, including marquee bills focused on quantum information science, energy research, weather forecasting, and hazard preparedness.
The enactment of the National Quantum Initiative Act on Dec. 21 creates a multiagency program spanning the National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Science Foundation, and Department of Energy. As part of the initiative, NSF and DOE will each establish between two and five competitively awarded research centers.
A National Academies study committee has begun a decadal survey of progress and opportunities in plasma science that will complement a separate forthcoming assessment of U.S. research programs in magnetic confinement fusion.
With recent funding increases, the Department of Energy is advancing a suite of upgrades to its light and neutron source scientific user facilities, helping them remain competitive with European facilities. Meanwhile, there are new discussions about building a new reactor-based neutron source, even as Congress pushes ahead with a different reactor for nuclear energy R&D.
President Trump has signed a fiscal year 2019 spending package that rejects his proposed cuts to the Department of Energy’s applied R&D programs for the second year in a row. Funding for renewable energy R&D remains stable, while government investment in nuclear energy R&D will continue its rapid increase.
Congress sent two bills to the president last week that provide policy direction to the Department of Energy Office of Science and Office of Nuclear Energy, respectively. The House also passed legislation to establish a National Quantum Initiative, which now awaits action in the Senate.