Seven Senators Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Put U.S. on Path to Double Basic Energy Research

Posted on May 20, 2015

Legislation would reauthorize energy programs in the America COMPETES Act to help create jobs, streamline U.S. Department of Energy research

WASHINGTON, May 20, 2015 – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) today introduced legislation to reauthorize the energy programs included in the America COMPETES Act.

Cosponsors include the chair and ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Maria Cantwell, (D-Wash.), and Senators Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.). The legislation will be considered by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee as part of the committee’s effort to produce broad energy legislation this summer.

Alexander said: “If we want to maintain our brainpower advantage and create an abundance of clean, cheap, reliable energy to compete in our 21st-century economy, we need to fuel innovation in our free enterprise system. Governing is about setting priorities, and this legislation will put us on a path to double basic energy research – one of the best ways to keep good-paying jobs from going overseas – while streamlining basic energy research programs at the U.S. Department of Energy. As researchers have told me, it’s hard to think of an important technological advance since World War II that has not involved at least some government-sponsored research.”

Coons said: “Research in science and technology has been critical to keeping our economy competitive in the 21st Century. I am proud that we are able to introduce this bill today and build on the bipartisan support for scientific research that Congress has already demonstrated by authorizing America COMPETES twice before. By investing in predictable and sustainable funding for energy science research, we can encourage the innovation and technological advances that are the hallmark of American leadership. We must ensure the U.S. keeps pace as global competitors increase their own investments in research and development, and this bill is the right first step. Moving forward, we must continue to champion American investment and leadership in science, technology, innovation, and STEM education through reauthorizing the remainder of the America COMPETES Act, and I look forward to working with all of my colleagues to do just that."

Murkowski said: “If the United States is going to lead the world in energy development, we must be leaders in science that will advance innovative energy technologies. Reauthorizing the COMPETES Act would ensure that important Department of Energy research programs, like ARPA-E, keep producing real results that advance America’s energy technologies. These programs are important to an affordable, abundant, clean, diverse, and secure energy sector that puts Americans to work.”

Cantwell said: “The federal government is uniquely situated to take the long view of research investments in breakthrough energy and environmental sciences, as well as the technologies and applications that will ultimately make energy more affordable. The COMPETES Act ensures that we get there by investing in research that matters and in the kinds of innovations brought to market by programs like ARPA-E.”

Gardner said: “As home to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Colorado is on the cutting edge of energy research. This legislation is critical to the lab and its research partners, which include Colorado universities, and it will help ensure that our state maintains its leading role in the new energy economy.”

Feinstein said: “Investing in basic scientific research is smart policy, especially when it comes to developing efficient and clean energy programs. This bipartisan bill will help ensure the United States remains a global energy leader and that our innovations will continue to drive economic growth.”

Heinrich said: "We are in a global race that America needs to win. It is our history of innovation and new technology that drive New Mexico’s economy and our contributions to this great nation. The COMPETES Act will help build a 21st century economy that focuses on expanding our energy sector. And with continued investment in R&D programs, we not only create jobs, but we also inspire next generation of STEM leaders and entrepreneurs."

The legislation introduced today accomplishes three of the major goals of the America COMPETES Act Alexander and other senators have supported in previous congresses. It would:

  1. Authorize a 4 percent increase in funding each year for basic energy research, and reauthorize for five years the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science and ARPA-E, an agency that supports research in energy technology. The legislation would put the U.S. Department of Energy on a path toward doubling the roughly $5 billion it spends on basic energy research.
  2. Eliminate six Department of Energy programs that were never fully implemented, and reform five other Department of Energy programs.
  3. Attract and keep the country’s most talented scientists through competitive grant programs funded through  the Department of Energy. 

The America COMPETES Act grew out of the “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” report on American competitiveness, written in 2005 by a commission headed by former Lockheed Martin Chairman and CEO Norm Augustine. The legislation set out to double the federal government’s investment in basic research in order to maintain America’s competitiveness in science and technology.

The legislation was originally passed under President George W. Bush in 2007, with 70 bipartisan Senate cosponsors. In 2010, Congress reauthorized the America COMPETES Act, with unanimous approval in the U.S. Senate.

A 2014 update to the “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” report further demonstrated the need to support government-sponsored research in order to provide for long-term sustainability of the country’s science and engineering research system to benefit the American people. The report recommended a sustainable growth rate of 4 percent in the federal investment in basic research.

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