Senate to debate role of national labs

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, September 11, 2017

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy will hold an oversight hearing this week on fostering innovation at the national laboratories, which have been under scrutiny because of proposed budget cuts by President Trump.

The White House asked for a nearly $1 billion fiscal 2018 cut in DOE’s Office of Science, which oversees the majority of the national labs.

The proposed cuts aren’t enshrined in current appropriations bills, but they are helping spur a debate about the role of the labs and whether federal research has steered too far away from basic investigations.

Energy Subcommittee Chairman Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) has signed onto several letters to the president urging support for DOE’s research programs.

“The United States cannot overcome scientific obstacles without the combined support of both the private and public sectors,” said one letter from May.

Gardner is longtime advocate of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which receives the majority of its funding from a separate DOE arm, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Recent appropriations bills moving through Congress would cut EERE spending, with House legislation supporting cutting it by half.

Among those testifying are Bill Tumas, NREL’s associate laboratory director, and Paul Kearns, interim lab director of Argonne National Laboratory. Argonne is a leader in battery research.

Anuja Ratnayake, director of emerging technology strategy at Duke Energy Corp., is also scheduled to testify. Duke is a partner with NREL on several projects, including one to examine how smart inverters can add more stability to the electric grid.

Schedule: The hearing is Tuesday, Sept. 12, at 2:30 p.m. in 366 Dirksen.

Witnesses: Brian Anderson, director, WVU Energy Institute, West Virginia University; Paul Kearns, interim laboratory director, Argonne National Laboratory; Anuja Ratnayake, director of emerging technology strategy, Duke Energy Corp.; and Bill Tumas, associated lab director, National Renewable Energy Laboratory.