34 Nobel Prize Winners Write President Obama Urging Support for Clean Energy R&D

July 16, 2009 | Tyler Burton,

In a letter submitted to President Obama today, a group of 34 prominent Nobel Prize recipients decried the lack of clear support in "The American Clean Energy and Security Act" (ACES) for the President's own promise to establish a Clean Energy Technology Fund of $150 billion over the course of ten years. The Nobelists, including many of the world's most prominent physical scientists, are calling on Congress and the President to ensure the climate and energy bill currently being debated by the Senate includes adequate and sustained support for clean energy innovation.

This letter represents the best and the brightest of the American science community, and echoes a call long issued by the Breakthrough Institute for large investment in clean energy (see "Letter to Obama & Congress: $30 billion Annually Needed for Energy Technology" and "Top Energy Scientists Call for $30 Bi Annual Investment in Clean Energy").

In an effort to "invest in the clean energy jobs of the future", President Obama's website continues to call on Congress to "Invest $150 billion over ten years in energy research and development to transition to a clean energy economy." As President Obama has repeatedly stated, "The nation that leads the world in creating a new clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the 21st century global economy."

Yet the American Clean Energy and Security Act recently passed by the House of Representatives stripped President Obama's inital plan for $15 billion annually in clean energy R&D funding to roughly one-fifteenth of that. Instead of investing in a proactive clean energy technology and competitiveness agenda, the ACES bill gives away many of the pollution permits for free to entrenched interests (with powerful lobbyists) including electricity and natural gas utilities (supposedly on behalf of customers), coal plants, oil refiners, and heavy industry.

Leaving out a proactive clean energy investment fund "is a dangerous omission," said Burton Richter, the leader of the group of laureates who signed the letter and winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics. "Much can be done with the current generation of technologies. However, study after study has confirmed that to combine growing prosperity worldwide with sharply reduced production of greenhouse gases will require technological advances that are possible only through research."

Furthermore, if the United States is going to become a leader in the clean energy race, the scientists maintain, the clean energy R&D investments in the ACES bill are far too small.

The letter comes at a time of mounting concern about Asia's aggressive investments in clean energy technology. In a story published in today's Washington Post, "Asian Nations Could Outpace U.S. in Developing Clean Energy", Breakthough's director of energy and climate policy, Jesse Jenkins, is quoted as saying: "If the Waxman-Markey climate bill is the United States' entry into the clean energy race, we'll be left in the dust by Asia's clean-tech tigers."

July 16, 2009

The Honorable Barack H. Obama

President of the United States

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

You have repeatedly and appropriately called for a Clean Energy Technology Fund of $150 billion over ten years that could be funded from receipts collected from a greenhouse gas cap and trade program. The stable support this Fund would provide is essential to pay for the research and development needed if the U.S., as well as the
developing world, are to achieve their goals in reducing greenhouse gases at an affordable cost.

This stable R&D spending is not a luxury. It is in fact necessary because rapid scientific and technical progress is crucial to achieving these goals, and to making the cost affordable.

We are concerned that "The American Clean Energy and Security Act" (H.R. 2454) that recently passed the House provides less than one fifteenth of the amount you proposed for federal energy research, development, and demonstration programs. The legislation provides no stable, specific funding for sustained research in the Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Science, or for the energy research and associated technology development programs of DOE (at the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Electricity Deliverability, Fossil, and Nuclear offices).

Given the expected growing federal budget deficits, and the corresponding pressure on the government's discretionary budget, this is a serious deficiency.

We hope that you will urge the Congress to send you a bill that will invest in energy research, development, and demonstration at an amount approaching the stable $15 billion annual support that you have proposed.

We stand ready to assist you in any way we can.


Paul Berg, Physics 1980

Stanley Cohen, Physiology or Medicine 1986

Robert F. Curl, Jr., Chemistry 1996

Johann Deisenhofer, Chemistry 1988

Val L. Fitch, Physics 1980

Jerome Friedman, Physics 1990

Sheldon Glashow, Physics 1979

Roy Glauber, Physics 2005

Dudley R. Herschbach, Chemistry 1986

Wolfgang Ketterle, Physics 2001

Roger D. Kornberg, Chemistry 2006

Herbert Kroemer, Physics 2000

Robert B. Laughlin, Physics 1998

Leon Lederman, Physics 1988

Anthony Leggett, Physics 2003

John Mather, Physics 2006

Marshall Nirenberg, Medicine 1968

George A. Olah, Chemistry 1994

Douglas Osheroff, Physics 1996

Arno Penzias, Physics 1978

Martin L. Perl, Physics 1995

William D. Phillips, Physics 1997

David Politzer, Physics 2004

Robert C. Richardson, Physics 1996

Burton Richter, Physics 1976

F. Sherwood Rowland, Chemistry 1995

Phillip A. Sharp, Physiology or Medicine 1993

George Smoot, Physics 2006

Horst Stormer, Physics 1998

Richard Taylor, Physics 1990

Daniel Tsui, Physics 1998

Steven Weinberg, Physics 1979

Frank Wilczek, Physics 2004

Robert W. Wilson, Physics 1978

Link to the original press release.