Bush budget boosts nuclear, coal, science
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Research into producing electricity from low-emission coal and nuclear plants saw big funding boosts in the 2009 budget request submitted by the Energy Department on Monday, along with basic energy sciences.
The 2009 budget proposed by the White House -- which requires congressional approval -- includes $25 billion in discretionary budget authority for the Energy Department, up nearly 5 percent from 2008.
Research into cutting heat-trapping emissions from coal-burning power plants would receive $648 million -- the biggest request in more than 25 years, and funding to encourage building new nuclear power plants was up substantially.
Energy Secretary Sam Bodman said the funds will allow the department to "continue to lay the foundation for a clean, safe, secure and reliable energy future for all Americans."
Democrats criticized the White House for cutting funding for low-income energy assistance, as well as a popular program to help poor families winterize their houses.
Rep. Ed Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, said the budget supports "dirty, dangerous fuels" like coal that could contribute to global warming.
Funds for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, fell 22 percent to $2 billion.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, said it was "completely wrongheaded" to slash funding for weatherization, after seeing funds fall to $59 million versus $285 million in 2008. Some 97,000 homeowners used the program in 2006 and 55,000 homes used it in 2007.
"I will work vigorously to reverse this decision," Bingaman said.
Lawmakers will quiz Bodman about the budget at two separate hearings this week.
The lion's share of department funds -- about $9.1 billion -- goes to securing U.S. nuclear weapon stockpiles. Funding for energy resource initiatives fell 10 percent to $3.65 billion, while funding for science programs rose 19 percent to $4.7 billion.
The budget requests big boosts for research into high-energy physics, nuclear physics and basic energy sciences, which saw funding rise 19 percent to $1.57 billion.
The Energy Department's scientific reach is immense -- it funds everything from relativistic heavy ion colliers to linear accelerators to research into dark energy. It is the largest U.S. funder of physical science research, and operates five of the ten fastest supercomputers in the world.
Building a long-delayed nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain in Nevada would receive about $495 million in funds in 2009. The Energy Department will seek a license for the dump from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission later this year.
Capturing carbon emissions from coal plants and socking them away in underground reservoirs was at the top of the department's 2009 priority list. Carbon sequestration research received $400 million in funds, along with $241 million for demonstration projects.
The DOE's office of energy efficiency and renewable energy saw cuts in research into hydrogen technology and weatherization programs and increases in biomass and biorefineries, with the aim of making cellulosic ethanol cost-competitive with conventional sources by 2012.
(Reporting by Chris Baltimore, editing by Russell Blinch and Matthew Lewis)