Bush Seeks Extra U.S. Energy Research Funds in 2008
WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration Monday asked Congress for $4.4 billion in extra research funds in fiscal 2008 for high-tech areas such as supercomputers and turning wood chips into ethanol, even though Congress has not acted on the Energy Department's 2007 request.
The Energy Department's total budget request for the 2008 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1, comes in at $24.26 billion in spending authority -- up $700 million or about 3 percent from its 2007 request, which has not been approved by Congress.
The request was part of the administration's $2.9 trillion budget request for 2008 unveiled on Monday.
The department's biggest share, $9.387 billion, would go to secure the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, which is one of the Energy Department's prime functions.
The next biggest amount, $5.655 billion, goes for cleaning up hazardous waste and radioactive contamination at 108 of 114 nuclear research and weapons production sites, like the Hanford site in Washington state, which used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.
The department's labs are key to a massive federal research initiative aimed at creating new energy sources that will help fulfill President Bush's goal of reducing U.S. reliance on oil imports.
But Congress has been slow to act on the American Competitiveness Initiative, a program Bush rolled out last year to double funding for basic science research at federal labs run by the Energy Department by 2016.
At a briefing on the budget, U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman said he still hopes Congress will approve the funds.
"This is critically important to the economic future of the United States," Bodman said. "We're going to continue to work at that."
The department's 2008 budget proposes a $4.4 billion, or 7 percent, increase for the science program, which would pursue developing lightning-fast super-computers as well as research into the tiny microbes needed to convert cellulosic materials like wood chips into ethanol fuel, and nanotechnology.
That's on top of a $4.1 billion increase for the program requested in the 2007 budget, which has yet to be approved by congressional appropriators.
The majority of the science funds would go to basic energy sciences, such as research into material sciences, chemistry and geosciences. The 2008 budget requests $1.499 billion for basic energy sciences, versus $1.199 billion in 2007.
Energy Department labs like the Los Alamos facility in New Mexico conduct some of the most sophisticated government-sponsored experiments into physics and the very nature of the universe and its sub-atomic building blocks.
Bodman, an engineer by training, whipped off a string of cutting-edge projects under way at department labs, from relativistic heavy ion colliders to large hadron colliders.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Democrat and chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, criticized the budget for zeroing out research into all fossil energy sources except for coal.
The proposal would repeal $50 million in guaranteed funding for onshore natural gas exploration, and leaves coal as the only fossil fuel on which DOE will fund research, Bingaman said.
Bodman said that fossil fuel producers do not need government subsidies with crude oil prices near $60 a barrel.
If current prices are not "sufficient incentives to develop reserves, I don't know what is," Bodman said. "A lot of money was made at much lower oil and gas prices."
Bingaman also said he was puzzled by a big funding increase for the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, a controversial program that would reprocess spent nuclear fuel, funded at $405 million for 2008.
Bodman said that nuclear power will be key to meeting soaring future global electricity demand.
"I would tell you as our energy secretary, I do not see how we are going to satisfy that demand without nuclear power," Bodman said.