U.S. Needs Critical Boost in Energy Research, Panel Tells Obama

American Energy Innovation Council  

The United States needs to more than triple its spending on energy research, development and demonstration projects, from about $5 billion now to $16 billion, and should institute a strategic review of national energy policy every four years, an advisory group of scientists and engineers said in a report to President Obama this week.

The United States lags behind other industrialized countries in public support for energy research and risks being overtaken in the development of new energy technologies if added support is not forthcoming, the group warned in the report, by the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology. Security concerns arising from an overreliance on foreign oil and the environmental threat of climate change must also be addressed in a more comprehensive way, the report said.

During his 2008 campaign, President Obama called for a similar increase in funding for energy research and development, to the tune of $150 billion over 10 years. But those funds were to be drawn from the sale of emissions credits after the passage of cap-and-trade legislation by Congress. Such a bill passed the House but faltered in the Senate this year and was abandoned without a vote.

The group’s report suggests that the funds could be found through new revenue streams, like a two-cent- per-gallon gasoline tax or a small “line charge” for the transmission of coal-fired electricity.

“These charges are well within the normal fluctuations in price seen by consumers and yet would provide a research fund that could materially lower future energy prices in a world conditioned by security and environmental concerns,” it states.

The incoming Republican leadership in the House has made cutting federal spending a top priority, however, and many incoming members have voiced opposition to raising taxes, making passage of such measures extraordinarily difficult if not impossible. “It seems likely that such funds will not be available in the near term, and yet there is urgency to ramp up to this funding level quickly,” the report noted.

Yet while finding an additional $11 billion annually for new energy research might be difficult, other suggestions might be more easily carried out by the executive branch, it suggested. A “strategic quadrennial review” of national energy policy, a key recommendation of the report, would be similar to the Quadrennial Defense Review undertaken every four years by the Department of Defense.

Such a review, led by the Department of Energy, could identify overlapping or counterproductive energy subsidies, boost overall energy efficiency throughout the government and push for the adoption of low-carbon technologies, the report found. The federal government is the nation’s single largest consumer of energy.

“The development of such a policy would enhance our energy security and create jobs as well as mitigate the risk of climate change,” the council’s chairmen, John P. Holdren, a science adviser to the president, and Eric Lander, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wrote in a letter to President Obama.

By JOHN COLLINS RUDOLF/NYT

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