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Press Releases :: May 9, 2008

Chairman Gordon Presses Establishment of ARPA-E as a Key to Clean Energy Independence

(Washington, DC) – House Science and Technology Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) spoke at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory today at 11 am to discuss the path to clean energy independence.  He was joined by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN).

“Rising costs of energy are hurting consumers at the pump, families at the supermarket, and threatening job security because high prices are weakening the competitiveness of our domestic industries,” said Chairman Gordon.  “The fact of the matter is, the status quo in energy is simply unsustainable.  There continues to be a need for ground-breaking, science-based energy solutions that can be deployed in the marketplace.”

In August 2007, the President signed into law the America COMPETES Act (PL 110-169), which was based on recommendations in the 2005 National Academies report Rising Above the Gathering Storm.  COMPETES included legislation authorized by Chairman Gordon to establish an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy, or ARPA-E.  ARPA-E is modeled after DARPA, the successful research and engineering used by the Department of Defense and which was responsible for creating stealth technology and the Internet, among other transformational technologies.  In recommending its creation, the National Academies stated that, "Introducing a small, agile, DARPA-like organization could improve the Department of Energy’s pursuit of R&D much as DARPA did for the Department of Defense.”

ARPA-E will leverage the intellectual capital of the nation’s universities, commercial, industrial, and investor communities, and the national labs to pursue high-risk, high-reward research projects that neither they nor the Department of Energy (DOE) would pursue on their own.  It will be an independent entity with less bureaucracy and with flexible hiring authority to recruit the best and brightest program managers at competitive salaries for terms of 2-4 years.  It will not use the standard peer review process, but rather will have the authority to start and stop targeted projects based on performance and relevance.  Finally, ARPA-E will bridge the “Valley of Death” by engaging in projects across the entire innovation spectrum – from early-stage basic research, to late-stage technology prototyping and market applications.

“ARPA-E represents a bold step, but that’s what is needed to surmount our greatest energy challenges and ensure the United States will be able to maintain its position as a global leader in innovation,” said Chairman Gordon.

Chairman Gordon also noted that America needs more energy research and development across the board.  He pointed out that, in 2006, the Government Accountability Office found that DOE’s total budget authority for energy R&D dropped by more 85 percent in real terms from 1978 to 2005.  During that time, crude oil imports grew from 40 percent of the U.S. supply in 1980 to 65 percent of the U.S. supply in 2005.

To reverse this trend, last year the Science and Technology Committee moved legislation to enhance and expand R&D programs on renewable energy (including solar, geothermal, and hydrokinetic) and energy storage, increase energy efficiency in buildings and vehicles, demonstrate "smart" grid technologies, and direct integrated, large-scale demonstration of carbon capture and storage.  All of these were ultimately included in HR 6, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (PL 110-140), which was signed into law in December 2007.

Gordon also discussed how to fund ARPA-E and other critical energy technology programs. "Four times in this Congress, the House has voted to repeal between $13 billion and $18 billion in tax and other incentives for the oil industry," Chairman Gordon said.  “I don’t disagree that we need incentives to move toward energy independence.  But I don’t believe the Federal government should be subsidizing an industry that is already seeing the highest profits on record.  With oil at $125 a barrel and oil company profits at $123 billion last year alone, I think this $18 billion would be much better used to invest in the very goals and technologies that we are talking about today – ARPA-E, renewable energy, energy efficiency, and clean coal.” 

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