June 19, 2008
House and Senate Committees Cut Funding for Obama’s Energy Education Initiative
By Devon Swezey, Breakthrough Fellow
[Update, 7/13/09: On July 9th, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to completely zero out all funding for President Obama's RE-ENERGYSE energy education program.]
President Obama's national energy education program designed to create a generation of clean energy innovators has been cut from $115 to $7 million by a House subcommittee. The cuts could mean that fewer than 100 scholarships, not 1,500 scholarships, will be available annually.
Energy analysts say that one of the key barriers to developing clean energy technologies that can compete with fossil fuels is the lack of scholarships both for young scientists to do basic research and for engineers seeking to apply discoveries in the real world.
The Administration's energy education program, called RE-ENERGYSE (REgaining our ENERGY Science and Engineering Edge), would have resulted in "the development of leading edge undergraduate and graduate programs and between 5,000 and 8,500 highly educated scientists, engineers, and other professionals to enter the clean energy field by 2015; and approximately 10,000 to 17,000 professionals by 2020," according to the Department of Energy (DOE). The initiative, which would be jointly supported by DOE and the National Science Foundation, was modeled after the Breakthrough Institute's National Energy Education Act proposal and would have been the largest federal initiative to focus exclusively on clean energy education.
President Obama announced the initiative as a way to "inspire the next generation of clean energy innovators", similar to the way that the launch of Sputnik and the space race inspired young people to pursue careers in science and engineering in the 1950s and 60s. In 1958, the government passed the National Defense Education Act (NDEA), which provided billions of dollars over 4 years to train a new generation of scientists to help America compete with the Soviet Union in scientific and technical fields. But in recent years, the number of science and technology professionals has been declining as a share of the labor force, a development that has education experts worried.
The cut to the President's energy education initiative comes as
recent reports have expressed concern about the state of science,
technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education in the United
States. A number of recent studies show that the United States lags
behind many of its economic competitors, particularly in higher
education. According to a report
by the National Academy of Sciences, in 2004 only 15% of American
undergraduates received their degrees in natural science or
engineering, while in China a full 50% of students received their
undergraduate degrees in those subjects. American students are trailing
their foreign counterparts in post-graduate STEM education as well; in
2004, 56% of engineering PhDs in the United States were awarded to
Experts also worry that the lack of investment in STEM education
will hamper America's ability to be a leader in an increasingly
competitive global economy, particularly in the development of clean
energy technologies. In recent weeks, a number of Asian countries have
announced massive increases in clean energy investment. China recently announced it would invest $440-$660 billion over 10 years in renewable energy. South Korea has also committed
$85 billion over five years--a full 2 percent of its GDP--for "green"
investment. In August, China, Japan, and South Korea will meet to
discuss ways they can work together on clean energy technology,
according to Time Magazine.
By comparison, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), which recently passed in the House, provides $6-12 billion in annual investments in clean energy. A recent EPA analysis projects that the bill would actually result in less renewable energy deployment in 2020 than would exist without the bill.
In a letter urging
a Senate appropriations subcommittee to restore funding for the
RE-ENERGYSE program, Debra Stewart, the President of the Council of
Graduate Schools, wrote that investing in human capital today was
necessary for the U.S. to succeed in creating the clean and renewable
energy resources of tomorrow.
"These investments in graduate education would invigorate research
in "green" technologies and prepare the workforce necessary for the
21st century global economy", she wrote.
The full Senate Appropriations Committee will take up the DOE 2010
budget request tomorrow, when they will decide how much funding will be
allocated to the RE-ENERGYSE program. Any differences will then be
resolved in conference between the two chambers and approved before
being sent to the President for his signature.