American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

Funding for DOE Research & Development (3-17-98)

Senate Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development
March 10, 1998

The Senate Appropriations Committee is presently considering the submitted FY 1999 budget requests from the Department of Energy Office of Energy Research (DOE-ER) and the Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (DOE-EERE). At a March 10, 1998 hearing, the Senate Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development heard testimony from Dr. Martha A. Krebs, director of DOE-ER, and Dan W. Reicher, Assistant Secretary for DOE-EERE. Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), the chair of this subc ommittee, began the hearing with his opening statement. Although recognizing that the Administration's funding requests are unlikely to receive full appropriation, Sen. Domenici made it clear that he is a strong supporter of the science initiatives. The senator then proceeded to allow several of his colleagues to make brief statements before testimony was to be presented. These statements included a query from Senator Herbert Kohl (D-WI) to Mr. Reicher. Senator Kohl solicited Mr. Reicher's opinion on Kohl's newly proposed Federal Energy Bank Act ( S 1375). This act would enhance the efficiency of federal government energy use, now estimated to be around $8 billion per year, through a revolving fund system and the funding of energy efficiency projects. Reicher could not state a position at the time, however he does agree with the challenge proposed.

Dr. Krebs was the first witness to present her statement for the record. She emphasized the need for funding continued research in basic science, including the proposed construction of the Spallation Neutron Source (S NS) research facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The administration's request for $2.72 billion in funding for these projects represents an increase in funding of almost $250 million over the FY 1998 budget appropriation. These funds are divided into the following categories: Basic Energy Sciences -- including geoscience research -- ($836.1 million), Biological & Environmental Research ($392.6 million), Fusion Energy Sciences ($228.2 million), Computational and Technology Research ($160.6 million), High Energy Physics ($691.0 million), Nuclear Physics ($332.6 million), Multiprogram Energy Laboratories-Facilities Support ($21.3 million), University and Science Education ($15.0 million--up from $0.0 million i n FY1998), Energy Research Analyses ($1.0 million), Technical Information Management ($9.8 million), and Energy Research-Program Direction ($39.9 million). In support of President Clinton's Climate Change Technology Initiative, DOE-ER has included within its budget request $27.0 million for "providing the science base for new technologies that will lead to reduced greenhouse gas emissions." From these funds, $11.0 million will support research in the Biological and Environmental Research program and $16 .0 million will support the Basic Energy Science program (including projects in the geosciences).

The statement submitted by Dr. Krebs also emphasizes educational priorities, specifically through the University and Science Education (USE) programs. DOE-ER's FY 1999 budget includes a request of $15.0 million to reestablish these programs, which are de signed to "[maintain] a diversity of students in the science pipeline from small colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions across the country." These programs support the DOE's goals of "providing hands on research opportunities to und ergraduate students and faculty, and to K-12 teachers to contribute to the national effort to improve math and science education."

Mr. Reicher presented the Energy and Water Development portion of the FY 1999 budget request for DOE-EERE requested funding of $372.3 million for the DOE-EERE's Solar and Renewable Energy Program (an increase of $100.1 million over FY 1998 levels). His presentation emphasized the importance for Congressional support for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development (R&D) if the U.S. is to improve environmental standards and remain technologically competitive with other nations. In hi s submitted statement, Reicher stated: "Without a substantial federal energy technology R&D effort -- conducted in collaboration with industry -- many advanced technologies will likely not be developed and our nation will suffer the resulting economic los ses." In addition, Reicher mentions that the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) 1997 review of the national energy R&D portfolio credited DOE with "remarkable gains in technology performance and cost reductions...[and] no ted that renewable energy technologies offer a number of benefits, including cleaner air, economic development, and reduced dependence on oil imports."

Specific technologies that Reicher mentioned in his testimony, such as the burning of crop waste and the production of solar energy, are a significant component in the President's five year, $6.3 billion, Climate Change Technology Initiative. This initi ative, using a combination of R&D and tax incentives, supports the creation of technologies that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions to below 1990 levels by 2008-2012. Examples of other technologies Reicher discussed include a "fish-friendly" turbine th at is to be used for hydropower production, and the creation of a commercially viable wind power turbine that will be effective in moderate wind conditions.

Of particular interest to many in the geological sciences is EERE's request for a $33.0 million investment in geothermal energy technologies (an increase of $4.0 million over FY 1998 levels). The Office of Geothermal Technologies "works with U.S. industr ies and electric utilities to create cost-competitive, environmentally attractive geothermal options." In addition, the Office of Geothermal Technologies' Geothermal Heat Pump Deployment will continue to work for "widespread consumer acceptance of geothe rmal heat pump technology."

Question and Answer
Senator Slade Gorton (R-WA) asked why no one in the Federal government makes fuel energy efficiency a high priority. Reicher responded that money in the "Interior account" is going towards the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles, an initiative t o create an affordable 80 mpg automobile.

Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) posed a question to Dr. Krebs concerning the development of new methods for nuclear waste disposal. Krebs responded that DOE-ER does not directly invest in waste disposal technologies, although geological and chemical research being conducted at several of the DOE-ER national laboratories have waste disposal applications.

Sen. Reid also asked Krebs where last year's appropriation of $3 million for hydrogen fuel research was spent. Krebs responded that the funding was used for research that had a broader impact than for strictly hydrogen related issues. Examples of the se research areas include the investigation of methane metabolizing plants and the use of light to separate hydrogen in certain chemical reactions.

Reid asked Mr. Reicher how we can gain from research into hydropower and wind when over 90% of the present U.S. fuel consumption comes from fossil and nuclear fuels. Reicher replied that wind power has potential if the U.S. can develop a moderate wind sp eed turbine that more states can use, including states in the Midwest. This technology should be ready within the next few years and could eventually provide thousands of megawatts of electric power.

Reid then asked Reicher to explain the drawbacks of solar power, and Reicher responded that the main drawback is cost. There are two branches of solar energy, solar hot water and solar electricity. Although both are reliable technologies, they are not a s cost competitive as other technologies. However, there is a large global market of 2.5 billion people who are without electrical power, and solar energy may someday help to fill that void. Reid then asked whether the requested 25% increase in funding will be necessary if the Kyoto Global Climate Treaty is not ratified this year. Dr. Krebs responded that the budget request is not driven by Kyoto.

Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) asked whether any research was being conducted on lignite coal. Reicher replied that the bulk of coal research falls under the fossil fuels energy program and he didn't have the necessary data on hand. Sen. Dorgan responded t hat he would submit his questions to Reicher to be answered at a later time.

One of the final questions came from Sen. Reid, who asked about the conversion of forest waste to ethanol. Reicher replied that ethanol production and the gassifying of waste are current programs in the western United States.

Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) also submitted questions in writing, however he was able to ask several during the hearing. His first request, however, was for Reicher to submit additional proposals of DOE-EERE budget priorities based on a 10% or 20%, etc. increase in funding. Sen. Domenici implied that this is necessary, since it is unlikely that the entire requested 37% budget increase will be approved. Sen. Domenici then mentioned electric restructuring research. He mentioned serious problems with the high flux reactor at Brookhaven National Laboratory and local fears about environmental contamination. He also declared that he is becoming more supportive of nuclear power, mainly in response to the standards set by the Kyoto agreement and the need to lower greenhouse gas levels. In addition, he said that the U.S. has been taking too long to activate the Yucca Mountain storage facility and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), and we need to move forward. In one of his final statements, Sen. Domeni ci mentioned the Human Genome Project. He asked the witnesses to clearly present which specific areas in this project need money, since this is one of the senator's high priorities and represents "Humankind's wellness program for the future." Soon after , the hearing adjourned.

Sources: Hearing testimony

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at

Prepared by Joshua A. Chamot, Special to AGI Government Affairs
Posted March 16, 1998

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