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Where Bush would steer energy R&D

Mark Clayton, The Christian Science Monitor
Some critics question proposed federal spending hikes for nuclear research.
If new technology is a key answer to global warming and America’s addiction to oil, then President Bush’s proposal to boost federal spending on energy R&D – by no less than 30 percent in fiscal 2008 – would seem a welcome step.

In the new $2.7 billion budget plan, R&D dollars allotted to the US Department of Energy (DOE) continue a transition toward research that will help cut greenhouse gases.

But overall federal spending on energy research in real dollars is only one-third what it was at its 1978 peak, according to a Harvard University analysis. Some also question the administration’s emphasis on nuclear research, saying other promising technologies could be applied sooner to climate and energy-security issues.

“The new DOE budget doesn’t reflect the big increase in public concern about greenhouse gases,” says energy expert Richard Newell, formerly a senior economist on the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, now at Duke University in North Carolina.

Because the federal government remains the largest investor in energy R&D, its spending priorities are of keen interest to scientists, environmentalists, energy entrepreneurs, utilities, and the general public – especially as concerns rise about both climate change and energy security. As might be expected, the new budget proposal has a host of critics. Among the concerns:

•Next year’s budget request would boost funding for biofuel, clean-coal, battery, and solar technologies. But it eliminates research for hydropower and geo-thermal, two renewable energy sources.

•Spending on energy-efficiency programs, which in the past led to low-power refrigerators and energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs, would drop.

•There would be a fourfold increase from 2006 in spending for nuclear-fuel reprocessing, a practice that many experts say does little to replace oil and remains years from commercialization.

Taken together, the budget request breaks little new ground in terms of fighting global warming or the nation’s reliance on foreign oil, many experts say.

“There simply is no new sense of urgency in this energy R&D budget,” says Kelly Gallagher, director of the Energy Technology Innovation Project at Harvard University. “Growth for solar, biofuels, and clean-coal research is positive. But overall funding is not nearly equal to the challenge.”
(23 Feb 2007)
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Grist interviews Vilsack; Vilsack quits presidential race

Amanda Griscom, Gristmill
Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) has added another “former” to his list of titles by withdrawing from the 2008 presidential race. But before he folded, citing financial concerns, Grist’s Amanda Griscom Little interviewed Vilsack — a vocal opponent of the Iraq war — about his surprisingly aggressive energy plan [PDF], ethanol’s future, and more.

Other Democratic candidates, Sens. Obama and Clinton in particular,
seem to be putting emphasis on energy and the environment as well. How
do you think your record compares to theirs?

As governor of Iowa I was able to actually grow a renewable fuel industry in my state.
We’ve dramatically increased ethanol production, dramatically increased
wind production, through a creative use of strategies. I don’t think
any other candidate can actually point to that accomplishment.

What motivated you to come out with such a comprehensive energy proposal so early in the game?

Primarily the fact that energy security is the most important domestic issue facing the United States.  We’ve been talking about this challenge for decades, and it’s time we get very serious about it.

This is a strategy not just to meet our energy needs in a way that’s environmentally sound, but also to ensure that we never send young men and women to war over oil as we have in the past and we appear to be doing right now in Iraq.
(23 Feb 2007)

Bush asked to help states fund heating fuel aid

Jo-Ann Moriarty, The Republican
WASHINGTON – A coalition of U.S. senators yesterday asked the White House to release $200 million in emergency funding for home heating because states are running out of money, and winter is far from over.

In Springfield, Mary Anne Kobylanski, the fuel aid director at the New England Farm Workers Council, said that 1,900 households have used their benefit – the maximum is $687 this year – and the fuel program has “between 40 and 45 percent of our money left to help residents in the city and in the past, our heavy spending months are February, March and April.

“Even though oil prices are down, with the small benefit levels, our clients are probably worse off than they were in the past couple of years,” Kobylanski said. ..

In the past, as far back as 2000, the federal government has provided about $2.1 billion in fuel aid, including several million dollars for emergency spending. In his proposed fiscal 2008 budget, Bush seeks to cut the program to $1.7 billion, which would include $282 million for emergency aid. Last winter, Congress added $1 billion to the program because of soaring energy costs. ..
(22 Feb 2007)