WASHINGTON— Energy Secretary Rick Perry faced tough questions on proposed funding for oil drilling in the Arctic, renewable energy and security of the energy grid Tuesday during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the Trump administration’s 2019 budget request.
But it was the funding of renewable energy and technology research that appeared to be a common concern among senators of both parties as they picked apart funding cuts and redistributions proposed for the many National Laboratories funded by the Energy Department.
The National Laboratories are a series of research facilities located across the country that rely on federal funding to carry out their research. Among them are the Los Alamos Laboratory, where the first atomic bomb was developed, and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois.
Some senators were concerned that many of the labs facing funding cuts conduct research on green energy, such as the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, which is developing biofuels, or the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which works on solar, wind and biofuel technology, and is facing a nearly 50 percent funding cut.
Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, where the Renewable Energy Lab is located, said he was proud of the work that the National Labs have done for advancing research in the world, but was concerned that the DOE was not on the same page.
“[We’re] incredibly proud of what the National Renewable Energy Lab has done in Colorado, and I think we have achieved so much because we’ve had that research and that partnership with the federal government,” he reminded Perry. “So, can you give me the assurances that I need—many of us need—to make sure that we continue our strong support of our National Labs?”
Perry responded that while he agreed in principle with Gardner, it’s up to Congress to appropriate funding for the issues they deem most important.
The Trump administration budget request also advocated for the elimination of the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy or ARPA-E, a 10-year-old program devoted to research into renewable energy and better batteries. The Trump administration justified the cuts by “recognizing the private sector’s primary role in taking risks to commercialize breakthrough energy technologies with real market potential.”
But senators were not swayed by that explanation. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., pressed Perry on the elimination of the program, citing the progress it has already made.
“Let me ask you a little bit about ARPA-E, I’m still trying to wrap my head around, given the advancements that have been made there in solar cells, and power controls, lithium-ion batteries, why would we want to zero-out that program?”
ARPA-E’s budget of around $309 million ranks it as a mid-size laboratory compared to the DOE’s other projects., such as the $1.2 billion Idaho National Library or the $2.2 billion Los Alamos Laboratory.