Bold Action on Energy Is Key to U.S. Competitiveness
The U.S. House Committee on Science heard from a panel of experts today on ideas to advance U.S. competitiveness in the energy arena – specifically, whether the creation of a new research agency (ARPA-E) within the Department of Energy (DOE) could streamline the movement of Federal research into practical ideas that advance U.S. energy independence.
"We all agree that energy research and development is key to energy independence, innovation, workforce development and U.S. security," stated Science Committee Ranking Member Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN). "The question is how far are we willing to go to enact real change that garners tangible results? Establishing an ARPA-E is a bold step, but it just may be the tool that gets the job done."
An Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy, or ARPA-E, is promoted in last October’s widely acknowledged National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm. The report identified a range of action items that must be addressed if the U.S. is to remain competitive in the global marketplace. The report called ARPA-E the key to producing "transformational research that could lead to new ways of fueling the nation and its economy."
Rep. Gordon introduced a package of legislation last fall aimed at enacting many of the NAS report recommendations, including establishment of an ARPA-E (H.R. 4435).
Modeled after successful research and technology development programs such as DARPA, an ARPA-E would attract our country’s best and brightest minds to address U.S. energy challenges. The goal of the Gordon legislation (H.R. 4435) is to reduce energy imports from foreign sources by 20% within 10 years through the development of revolutionary energy technologies. The Director of ARPA-E would report to the Secretary of Energy, and the legislation provides great flexibility to the Director in managing the organization to meet the goal.
"ARPA-E is definitely an idea we should be talking about, "added Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Energy. "I’ll admit that in the wake of a hearing we had about DARPA’s current directions in the area of computer science I’m a bit wary of creating another organization like it that might lose its way after being around for a long time, but if we take care we can design ARPA-E to avoid those problems."
Witness Melanie Kenderdine, Vice President of Washington Operations for the Gas Technology Institute, commented, "If properly organized, empowered, and funded an ARPA-E type program could provide new and aggressive link between the needs of the energy marketplace and research directions, operating as a primary interface between the energy industry and DOE’s national laboratories and experts in academia."
"This is a complex subject that seems to draw attention and inspire lively debate - we witnessed that here today," concluded Rep. Gordon. "If we’re serious about continued global leadership and addressing pressing U.S. energy issues now, we must first commit to fundamental changes. Decades of energy research will only pay off if truly innovative technologies make their way from conception to reality, and an APRA-E is one way to insure that happens."
In addition to H.R. 4435, the Gordon innovation legislative package also includes H.R. 4434, 10,000 Teachers, 10 Million Minds Science and Math Scholarship Act and H.R. 4596, Sowing the Seeds Through Science and Engineering Research Act.
Similar ARPA-E legislation (S. 2197) was marked up in a Senate Committee yesterday and appears to be on the fast track with solid bipartisan support.