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White House Budget to Cut Energy Research

In President Bush’s proposed 2008 budget, weapons development wins big while overall funding for research suffers.
February 9, 2007

President Bush’s 2008 budget, which was released earlier this week, proposes a record high amount of federal research and development (R&D) funding. But an increase in weapons-development funding is largely responsible for the record R&D spending: overall support for long-term research is down. And expenditures for energy-related R&D are less than the anticipated 2007 levels.

President George W. Bush discusses his new budget with the media on Monday. The budget is good news for some research agencies, but overall it would mean cuts.

This is according to a new analysis of the budget by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). In general, says Kei Koizumi, director of the R&D Budget and Policy Program at the AAAS, the administration’s 2008 budget reinforces a trend away from research and toward development. “Overall R&D would hit a new record of well over $140 billion,” Koizumi says. “But the bulk of the money and the bulk of the increases would go toward the D side–both defense and development.”

Department of Defense (DOD) spending on new weapons systems increases by 5.5 percent, adding $3.5 billion to these development efforts. The DOD’s research-oriented science and technology programs would receive a severe 20 percent cut. Likewise, NASA funding for space-station construction and the development of a space-shuttle replacement is strong in the budget, while many science programs would face cuts.

Overall spending on energy R&D at the Department of Energy (DOE) will reach $1.3 billion, which is a cut when compared with a 2007 funding resolution that passed the House at the end of January and is likely to pass the Senate, the AAAS report says.

Under the 2008 budget, select energy-related programs, such as nuclear-fusion research, will receive a boost. And energy R&D is up significantly from 2006 levels. One big winner is funding for R&D on using biomass for fuels: funding for such research has doubled since 2006. Indeed, if the 2008 White House budget is passed, overall renewable-energy research funding would have increased about 31 percent over 2006 levels. Funding related to nuclear energy would also jump markedly, more than doubling since 2006.

Still, many of the energy programs that receive increased funding–such as those for hydrogen fuel-cell and fusion R&D–are longer-term projects. And some experts say that these will not likely have a significant impact on the consumption of oil or greenhouse-gas emissions for decades. George Sterzinger, executive director of the Renewable Energy Policy Project, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C., says that what’s needed is funding for transforming new technology into commercial products, such as more-efficient power plants. Without such support, he says, “one, the technologies will languish, and two, they’ll move offshore. And both of those things are happening. Given the urgency, it’s scandalous.”

Indeed, in December the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report concluding that then-current spending on energy research was likely inadequate to “reverse our growing dependence on imported oil or the adverse environmental effects of using conventional fossil energy.” According to the GAO report, research on renewable, fossil, and nuclear energy has dropped off since 1978, when it was $5.5 billion, after adjusting for inflation. The president’s Advanced Energy Initiative funding in the 2008 budget comes to $2.7 billion.

Meanwhile, spending on weapons development will reach a record $68.1 billion. “The trend that stands out,” Koizumi says, “is that, because weapons development continues to grow and grow, that means industry–military contractors–are getting a lot more R&D money these days.”

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