The first shots of the Trump Administration’s War on Science have been fired, and scientists everywhere should worry.
With the approval of Secretary Rick Perry, the Department of Energy (DOE) has stopped processing the paperwork that would fund millions of dollars in advanced energy research – and it refuses to tell the scientists why.
It’s also refusing to explain why they’ve decided to take the widespread “no-contract option” in early April, but scientists currently involved in Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) projects are wondering if they’ll ever get the money.
The decision to withhold money at ARPA-E should worry anyone who believes in the missions of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Sunshot Initiative. If the DOE could do this with such high-profile energy projects, what could it do to lesser-known – but no less vital – research arms elsewhere?
But the decision to halt funding at ARPA-E could also stop vital renewable-energy research in its tracks.
In December, the DOE announced $33 million in funding for a new program it called Network Optimized Distributed Energy Systems (NODES), in which project teams would develop technologies that coordinate load and generation on the grid to create a virtual energy storage system.
The 12 projects funded under the NODES umbrella included projects dealing with everything from energy storage, maximizing the amount of renewable energy the U.S. grid can handle to creating open and scalable distributed energy resource networks – and that’s just three projects.
At press time, it’s unclear if these projects are affected by the current funding-freeze/information blackout.
That the Trump Administration is taking these actions is not entirely surprising. Its officials, including high-ranking officials like EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and the president himself, have expressed disdain for scientists and science, particularly in cases where the scientific findings don’t comport with their pre-conceived notions of what is fact or not. And in an Administration where “alternative facts” are considered reality, scientific facts, as well as the research that develops them, take on a less important role in decision-making.
In addition, the 2018 budget rolled out by the president marked ARPA-E for elimination, though bipartisan support for the organization, which was started in 2007, might make elimination difficult.
There is no word yet on whether NREL scientists and Sunshot Initiative recipients will receive the same treatment as those at ARPA-E – but the solar industry should keep a close eye on those two organizations to ensure the next solar-industry breakthrough is not killed before it even makes it out of the lab.
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“the Department of Energy (DOE) has stopped processing the paperwork that would fund millions of dollars in advanced energy research – and it refuses to tell the scientists why.”
Why? Because they’re the handmaidens of the oil industry. It’s not about what’s best for the country and the environment, but what’s best for big oil.
The Trump Administration has the highest number of number of people from the Koch Brothers lobbying and law firms, it’s companies, and non-profits it supports that his intensely against renewable energy, State RPS’s, net-metering, energy efficiency procurement guidelines, and alternative fuels and electric cars. t should be no surprise they want these programs “taken down”. Moreover, they want information about the RD&D programs as well as EPA enforcement and public information programs shut down as well. We should advise Congress that USDOE was established after the OPEC oil embargoes to advance domestic renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage options. This assault on domestic renewable enregy needs to be stopped in its tracks. Scott Sklar, Steering Committee Chair, Sustainable Energy Coalition, Washington, DC
NREL and all other National Labs are managed by institutions that are milking the tax payer with overbloated salaries for their management (google “million dollar government employee” as an example dating back to 2013, today things are worse). The science can still be done with reduced budgets at the National Labs but the corporations managing the labs will never take a cut to their ranks or their multimillion dollar contracts. Historically it is the scientists, engineers, technicians and support staff (all the working bees) that get the ax. We can all agree the country is broke and budgetary cuts at all levels are necesary to get on track, we can also agree it would be a mistake to stop funding for scientific R&D. The science can still be done if President Trump (or his administration) renegotiates all those management contracts at any “government owned corporation operated” instituion.
Thank you for the entertainment. Indeed, googling “million dollar government employee” sent me down a rabbit hole of conspiracy theory websites that thankfully I will forget in a day or so. And by the way, the first legitimate website that I found on this subject showed that the highest paid government employees in pretty much every state were either college sports coaches or in some cases college presidents.
We do not all agree that this country is broke. We’ve been running deficits for two hundred years, ever since we realized that it gave Great Britain an upper hand in its wars and figured out how to manage it ourselves. Nor do we all agree that budgetary cuts at all levels are necessary to get on track. Nor is this anywhere near germane to the tiny budget of DOE & ARPA-E – if you really wanted to reduce the debt, you’d cut military spending and/or get rid of tax loopholes.
And as far as President Trump renegotiating all of those management contracts, let’s hope that he would have more success than he did getting his way with the budget. Despite all the bluster, negotiation does not appear to be something that he is particularly good at.
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