Selections from the Senate Debate on the FY 2010 DOE Funding Bill: S&T

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Publication date: 
28 August 2009

Last month’s Senate consideration of the FY 2010 Department of Energy funding bill was described by Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Byron Dorgan (D-ND) as a “long saga.”  The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 85-9, setting the stage for a conference committee with House appropriators that will convene in September.

Selections from the two days of floor debate are presented in this FYI and in FYI #109.  This FYI focuses on science and technology issues.  FYI #109 contains excerpts regarding nuclear energy and waste disposal.

Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT):

“We do provide an increase in funding for the Office of Science, $127 million over the current year levels. I think that is essential to a sustained investment in important scientific facilities that we have throughout the country.”

Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND):

“I wish to mention the National Laboratories.  This bill funds our national science, energy, and weapons laboratories.  These laboratories are the crown jewels of our country’s research capability. We used to have the Bell Labs, and we had laboratories that were world renowned, world class, that didn’t have anything comparable in the world. The Bell Labs largely don’t exist at this point. Much of our capability in science for research and technology exists in these science labs we fund in this bill. I am determined to find ways to make certain those best and brightest scientists and engineers working on the future of tomorrow and the new technologies for tomorrow at the national science laboratories have some feeling of security about their future.  The last thing we should want is to see the roller-coaster approach to jobs at our National Laboratories and our science labs.

“We had a hearing some while ago in our subcommittee on the issue of how to continue to use coal in the future.  That leads to the question of carbon capture and sequestration. I held a hearing in our subcommittee on carbon capture and beneficial use. One of the witnesses from one of our laboratories, Margie Tatro from Sandia National Laboratory, talked about what they are working on. It was breathtaking.  We have this giant problem related to using coal, but it is not an insurmountable problem. She talked about the work they are doing with respect to concentrated solar power to be used in a heat engine to take CO2 in on one side of the engine and water in on the other side. They fracture the molecules and, through thermal chemical dynamics, they create methane gas from the air. . . .

“Deep in our laboratories are some of the brightest people working on these issues. We will solve some very vexing and challenging energy issues through research and development programs. I look at what we are doing in those areas for energy efficiency and renewable energy such as for hydrogen, biomass and biorefineries, solar energy, wind energy, geothermal energy, vehicle technologies, building technologies, industrial technology, weatherization, State energy programs, advanced battery manufacturing, and more.  All of these issues are investments in the country’s future and will, no doubt in my mind, unlock the mysteries of science to give us the capability to do things we did not dream possible. That opens up the opportunity to find new sources of energy, to move us way from this unbelievable dependence on foreign oil, to move toward different constructs in building efficiency, appliances, and new vehicles. That solves a number of things, allowing us to produce more energy, more renewable energy, more fossil energy, but it also allows us to conserve much more because we are prodigious wasters of energy.”

The next day the Senate returned to its consideration of the bill.  Dorgan stated:

“Yesterday, I talked for a moment about the Department of Energy’s national laboratories. We fund a lot of issues in this appropriations subcommittee, including all of our science, energy, and weapons laboratories.  I am so proud of those laboratories.  They remind us of the old Bell Laboratories, where so much good research and scientific inquiry occurred.  The Bell Labs are now largely gone.  The laboratories that we have - the science, energy and weapons labs - are   the repository of the most important research that goes on in this country.

“I believe it was in the last fiscal year that Los Alamos in New Mexico announced it had completed work on what is called the Roadrunner, which is the most powerful computer in the world. That most powerful computer does not exist somewhere else, it exists here at Los Alamos Laboratory.  It is a computer that has met the speed of what is called a petaflop.” . . .  Yet the development of very powerful computers like the Roadrunner, the world’s most powerful computer in this country, allows us to do almost unbelievable things in science and research and inquiry. Is that an investment in the country, in the future? Yes, it is a big investment, an investment that will pay dividends for decades to come.”

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN):

“I want to express my disappointment that the Energy-Water Appropriations bill before us today does not fully fund the administration’s request for its Energy Innovation Hubs. As my colleagues know, I have a long history of support of federal investments in science and research, and in energy research in particular. I have called for a series of ‘mini-Manhattan projects’ on seven clean energy grand challenges: improving batteries for plug-in vehicles, making solar power cost competitive, making carbon capture a reality, safely recycling used nuclear fuel, perfecting advanced biofuels, designing green buildings, and providing energy from nuclear fusion.  It should come as no surprise, therefore, that I am a strong supporter of   the administration’s proposed Energy Innovation Hubs.

“In testimony earlier this year, Energy Secretary Chu has indicated that these hubs are one of his top priorities and will focus on overcoming the most significant barriers to achieving national energy and climate goals.  The challenges the Secretary has asked these hubs to address are very similar to the grand challenges I outlined last year. I believe Congress and the Federal Government should tackle these seven grand scientific challenges during the next five years in order to put the United States firmly on the path toward clean energy independence   within a generation. If we are to end our energy dependence and make renewable energy cost-competitive then we must double our investment in energy research and development.

“I believe the administration’s hubs are a firm commitment to put us on this path to energy independence.  I know the energy research community is eager to compete for this funding and to meet the challenges before our Nation. The passion and commitment of our researchers is palatable both at home in Tennessee and across the country. In fact, my home state boasts some of the finest energy researchers in the country at Oak Ridge National Laboratory as well as research institutions such as Vanderbilt and the University of Tennessee. At these institutions and similar institutions across the country, researchers are eager to make progress on these pressing issues to improve the lives of their fellow citizens and solve some of our greatest energy challenges. It is our obligation to ensure that they have the full backing and support of the U.S. Government, which means funding these Energy Innovation Hubs.  These multidisciplinary research hubs will harness the best and brightest researchers at our universities and national labs as well as in industry.  Each one could very well become a world-class research facility in its given program of focus. They are conceived as highly collaborative, integrated centers of innovative thinking that will focus teams of researchers from multiple institutions on developing novel ideas to overcome major scientific and technological barriers.

“Their efforts will complement - not duplicate - other DOE programs such as the Energy Frontier Research Centers, EFRCs and the Advanced Projects Agency for Energy, ARPA-E, differing from these programs in their larger scale, their duration, and their breadth spanning basic and applied science as well as limited technological development efforts. Moreover, the hubs are designed so as to permit flexibility and to allow for the quick reallocation of funding within each topic area to pursue new research opportunities or alternatives quickly, as they emerge – without the delays that may impede other government programs.

“I recognize that the [Energy] Department may not have had all the details fleshed out when they initially presented the hubs to the Congress. Despite its best efforts, the Department is not yet operating with a full staff – though I hope this situation is improving daily. But my colleagues are right to ask for a fuller explanation of this concept and its role in the greater Federal research enterprise. The funding level requested is not insignificant and deserves careful scrutiny. So I am pleased to report that additional details have now been submitted which address many of the very valid questions and concerns my colleagues have raised. I hope that this additional information will permit us to move forward with full funding for all eight hubs.”


NOTE REGARDING FYI #104: The Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Office of Management and Budget in the Clinton Administration also issued memorandums regarding science and technology priorities to guide the development of department and agency budget requests.