In advance of a pending Trump administration 2018 budget proposal to slash U.S. Department of Energy research programs, Colorado Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner joined fellow Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and four other GOP members of the Senate in a letter to President Trump urging him to stay the course on the funding. The letter got some press in the nation’s capital last week.
Some key passages:
Government-sponsored research is one of the most important investments our country can make to encourage innovation, unleash our free enterprise system to create good-paying jobs, and ensure American competitiveness in a global economy.
The United States does many things well, but one thing we do better than any other country in the world is innovation through research. The Department of Energy’s research programs have made the United States a world leader in science and technology, and will help the United States maintain its brainpower advantage and remain competitive with countries like China and India. …
… We cannot lose the technological advantages we have gained through our country’s investment in research and development. Governing is about setting priorities, and the federal debt is not the result of Congress overspending on science and energy research each year. We urge you to continue to invest in the Department of Energy’s research and development programs in fiscal year 2018.
A call for continued research subsidies, to say nothing of a tribute to public-private partnerships, aren’t the usual fare of free-marketeering, budget-hawkish Republicans. Then again, federal spending isn’t only about political philosophy.
The letter’s policy merits aside, there are no doubt some hard-boiled political considerations behind it. Among them — for Gardner, at least: the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden.
A draft of the administration’s budget proposal included not only steep cuts to the Energy Department’s fossil fuels and nuclear programs but also a dramatic reduction in funding — on the order of 70 percent — to the department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. That’s the agency that, according the Washington Post in March, pretty much pays the federal portion of the Golden’s lab’s tab:
Several staffers said cuts of that magnitude would damage U.S. research and technological competitiveness. They suggested much of the brunt of the cuts could fall on the National Renewable Energy Laboratory at Golden, Colo., the country’s leading clean energy research facility. …
… Virtually all of the lab’s federal funding comes from the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy — $273 million out of its total federal budget of $292 million in 2016.
The lab, better known as NREL, has a total budget of over $350 million and nearly 1,700 employees, giving it a substantial economic impact on Golden and surrounding Jefferson and Boulder counties.