Newspaper article International New York Times

Executives Advocate More Energy Research ; Federal Budget Is Too Low, They Argue, Threatening Long-Term Goals of U.S

Newspaper article International New York Times

Executives Advocate More Energy Research ; Federal Budget Is Too Low, They Argue, Threatening Long-Term Goals of U.S

Article excerpt

At stake are not just long-term goals like reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, said Bill Gates, but also continued United States leadership in industries of the future.

The United States government is spending far too little money on energy research, putting at risk the long-term goals of reducing carbon emissions and alleviating energy poverty, some of the country's top business leaders found in a new report.

The leaders, sitting as the American Energy Innovation Council, a group of six executives that includes Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, and Jeffrey R. Immelt, the chief executive of General Electric, urged Congress and the White House to make expanded energy research a strategic national priority.

The executives pointed out that the United States had fallen behind a slew of other countries in the percentage of economic output being spent on energy research, among them China, Japan, France and South Korea. Their report urged leaders of both political parties to start increasing funds to ultimately triple today's level of research spending, about $5 billion a year.

"Growing and consistent appropriations for energy innovation should be a top U.S. priority over the next decade," the business leaders recommended in their report. "The budget numbers over the last five years are a major failure in U.S. energy policy."

At stake, Mr. Gates said in an interview, are not just long-term goals like reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, but also American leadership in industries of the future, including advanced nuclear reactors and coal-burning power plants that could capture and bury their own emissions.

"Our universities, our national labs are the best in the world," Mr. Gates said, but he added that a chronic funding shortfall was holding back the pace of their work.

The report did credit the Obama administration and Congress with some gains, including a one-time injection of funds in the economic stimulus bill of 2009. But subsequent budgets have essentially dropped back to prior levels, and spending on American energy research remains far below the high point it reached just after the energy crises of the 1970s.

In the past, the report found, investments in energy innovation have paid major dividends. Mr. Gates cited the example of hydraulic fracturing to unlock natural gas and oil in shale deposits, a technique developed in part with federal research money that has led to a newfound abundance of oil and gas, lowering prices for consumers.

Similar innovation is needed in low-emission sources of energy, the report found, if the goal of limiting global warming is to be met while making energy more available to poor people around the world. Experts involved in writing the report said the needed breakthroughs included safer types of nuclear reactors, cheaper methods of capturing carbon dioxide emissions at power plants and improved batteries that can store large amounts of energy. …

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