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Former DOE officials, industry leaders urge Congress to protect agency’s research budget

Originally published by E&E News

Former Republican officials, oil executives and business leaders are warning Congress and Energy Secretary Rick Perry that proposed budget cuts would have a devastating impact on national security and the economy.

In a letter today, 14 energy and economic heavy hitters — including U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Thomas Donahue — urged appropriators to fund the Department of Energy's (DOE's) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and research and development programs to ensure that the United States maintains its competitive edge.

Signatories pointed to early federal research that helped develop hydraulic fracturing technologies as one example of why the private sector alone can't fund critical innovation in energy.

"Accelerating innovation and increasing American competitiveness are two goals that have always enjoyed broad-based support," said the document.

"This consensus has been sustained by an understanding that innovation has been a driving force behind American prosperity for decades," it said.

The Bipartisan Policy Center and American Energy Innovation Council organized the letter, which went out to both Republican and Democratic leaders of Appropriations committees in both chambers.

Signers included Southern Co. CEO Tom Fanning, Exelon Corp. CEO Christopher Crane, Shell Oil Co. U.S. President Bruce Culpepper, Nuclear Energy Institute CEO Maria Korsnick, Former Undersecretary of the Army Norman Augustine, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner John Doerr, Pioneer Natural Resources Co. CEO Timothy Dove and PG&E Corp. Executive Chairman Anthony Earley Jr.

Others were American Air Liquide Holdings Inc. CEO Michael Graff, Consumer Energy Alliance President David Holt, retired DuPont Chairman Chad Holliday, American Gas Association President Dave McCurdy and Clean Line Energy Partners LLC President Michael Skelly.

The missive is unusual for including leaders representing both fossil fuel and low-carbon industries. It also comes on the same day that all seven of the former assistant secretaries who led the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy from 1989 to 2017 sent separate letters to appropriators and Perry warning that proposed DOE budget cuts could slash jobs and stall advances in areas like grid reliability.

The Trump administration's fiscal 2018 budget proposal would slash funding at the Office of Science by more than 15 percent, to $4.5 billion. Fossil research and development, including research on carbon capture technology, would see a cut from more than $600 million to $280 million.

Funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), which supports research in wind, solar, geothermal and other clean energy technologies, would plunge by about 69 percent, from more than $2 billion to $636 million. ARPA-E's and DOE's loan programs are targeted for elimination.

The Trump administration said funding reductions are necessary to focus DOE's efforts on its core missions and basic research.

"This budget delivers on the promise to reprioritize spending in order to carry out DOE's core functions efficiently and effectively while also being fiscally responsible and respectful to the American taxpayer," Perry said after the budget proposal's release.

DOE did not respond to a request for comment about the letters.

Many conservatives say the private sector should lead some of the research that DOE is doing. Programs have picked winners and losers rather than letting the market drive things, they say.

But the business executives and former administration officials say the type of research being targeted for cuts is too high-risk for private industry, even though it could be transformational.

The former assistant secretaries said that while they have not always agreed in the past on the DOE budget, the proposed cuts to EERE and other offices are so steep that they would harm America's "energy future."

"This is a particularly inauspicious time to cut the EERE budget," they wrote. Three EERE chiefs in both Bush administrations signed, along with four EERE heads from the Obama and Clinton administrations.

China, in particular, is reorganizing its energy R&D efforts on many technologies that were first developed in the United States at taxpayer expense, they said.

Cuts to DOE's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability could harm efforts to bolster the grid at a time when it is vulnerable to threats and in a state of flux, said the letter.

"R&D to develop the capabilities needed in a modernized grid is critical, yet the electric utility sector invests just .2 percent of sales in R&D," it said.

In addition to supporting renewable and vehicle research, EERE sets mandatory efficiency levels for appliances. Despite "occasional controversy," the program has bipartisan support, and existing standards could save consumers nearly $2 trillion on utility bills by 2030, the letter said.

Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from E&E News. Copyright 2017. E&E provides essential news for energy and environment professionals at www.eenews.net