Energy and environmental issues do not get much attention at budget time. Compared to the massive outlays for other programs and the overall 3.1 trillion dollar budget, the Department of Energy’s proposed 25 billion dollars, the Department of the Interior’s 11 billion, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s 8 billion are downright modest. The real problem for businesses and consumers are the costs of federal energy and environmental laws and regulations, which are probably 10 times more than the direct outlays from taxpayers to run the agencies. It is also worth noting that federally-directed research into alternative energy has never been Washington’s forte. In fact, the 30 plus year history of such research has yielded few worthwhile breakthroughs to justify the expenditures. This is why the annual budget-time complaints of “not enough for solar research” or the like should be taken with a grain of salt. This is clearly one area where more money does not mean more progress.
If there is a role for the federal government it is in conducting basic research related to climate change. Such research is a much better approach than proposed legislation like S. 2192, America’s Climate Security Act of 2007, that cracks down on fossil energy use. Rather then ratcheting down carbon dioxide emissions from existing energy technologies – which would be very expensive – it is better to find new technologies that will allow energy to be used with fewer or no carbon dioxide emissions. Thus, the proposed outlays for research into ways of using coal with lower emissions and efforts to share carbon-friendly technologies globally are the most defensible energy expenditures in this budget.
One good idea in the budget are provisions supporting increased domestic energy production, including opening a portion of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) believed to contain 10 billion barrels of oil. Though unlikely to survive the upcoming fight with Congress over ANWR, the administration has done the right thing by keeping the debate alive over positive and truly pro-energy steps the government should be taking.
On the nuclear energy front, the budget funds an assortment of programs. While some are necessary, as a whole they continue to perpetuate government dependence by the nuclear industry. Some of these programs, such as funding for Yucca Mountain at $495 million, are critical to the nation and should be fully supported by Congress. Whether spent fuel is placed at interim storage, is recycled, or left on site, the nation still will need a facility in which to place its radioactive waste.
Other programs that should enjoy Congressional support are the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative ($302 million) and Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems Initiative ($70 million). AFCI is helping to accelerate the development of recycling technologies that minimize waste volume while maximizing energy resources. The Gen IV program is providing basic research into the next generation of nuclear reactors. Ultimately, however, if a nuclear renaissance is really going to take place, the federal government must decrease its role, limit its involvement to legitimate oversight, and allow the private sector to get to the business providing power for the American people.