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House Panel Cuts DOE Education Program

A House of Representatives spending panel today rejected a comprehensive, $115 million education initiative that energy secretary Steven Chu has touted as essential for training a new cadre of scientists pursuing basic and applied research on clean energy.

President Barack Obama unveiled the effort, dubbed RE-ENERGYSE  (REgaining our ENERGY Science and Engineering Edge), in a 27 April speech to the National Academy of Sciences, and it was part of the department's 2010 budget request to Congress. The program spans the education spectrum, from elementary and high school through postdoctoral study, and includes technical training at community colleges as well as public outreach. Department of Energy officials say that they are still working out the details, in conjunction with the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies that may participate.

But legislators feel that the idea is still half-baked.

"Everybody is for more science and math education. And a lot of other agencies are already very active," says Representative Ed Pastor (D–AZ), acting chair of the energy and water appropriations subcommittee, speaking after a mark-up this morning of DOE's overall budget request. "We don't want to curb their enthusiasm. But we want to make sure that DOE integrates what its plans with other, ongoing programs within the department and across the rest of the government." Pastor said the subcommittee has included $7 million for RE-ENERGYSE in the bill as a way to "get things moving."

The House bill, which will be taken up by the full spending committee on 7 July, provides DOE's Office of Science with its full request of $4.9 billion. The department's overall budget, including its work on nuclear weapons and environmental cleanup, would be $26.9 billion, some $1.4 billion less than the Administration's request. The panel cut the entire $1.5 billion request for a loan guarantee program to support innovation energy technologies. Pastor said the program has sufficient money from this year's stimulus package to operate for the next 2 years. No other details of specific programs were released this morning.