June 16, 2010
Congress Rejects Obama’s Vision for Energy Education, Universities Demand More
By Yael Borofsky, Breakthrough Fellow
Lying in the rejected scrap heap created by the Senate's passage of the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill (H.R. 3183) is RE-ENERGYSE, President Obama's $115 million energy education program that he proposed last April.
Designed to usher in a new generation of young clean energy innovators by improving education in math and science, RE-ENERGYSE (REgaining our ENERGY Science and Engineering Edge) was a crucial part of Obama's plan to drive our nation's transition to a clean energy economy and maintain global competitiveness in the race for clean energy. Unfortunately, the Senate roundly disregarded Obama's vision to meet the clean energy challenge when it appropriated none of the $34.3 billion in energy spending last week towards the program. Meanwhile, the House only appropriated $7.5 million to perform an assessment study.
By providing necessary educational resources and research opportunities, RE-ENERGYSE is precisely the kind of program the United States needs in order to inspire students to pursue careers in clean energy fields. Had it received funding, the program was slated to prepare approximately 8,500 talented young scientists and engineers to enter the clean energy workforce by 2015 - just for starters. What Congress has failed to recognize is that this fundamental investment in our nation's youth is critical to facilitating a rapid transition to a clean energy economy.
According to a recent op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle by the Breakthrough Institute's Jesse Jenkins and Teryn Norris, only around 15% of undergraduate degrees in the U.S. are awarded in the fields of math and science. And as Wall Street investment firms aggressively recruit the nation's top students -- not just in economics and finance, but in math, engineering, and physics -- more and more of our nation's best and brightest scientific minds are directed away from clean technology innovation and into the financial sector.
In comparison, 50% of Chinese undergrads earn degrees in science and engineering - a particularly dramatic difference in light of the growing competition between the U.S. and Asia in the race for global clean energy leadership. With Asia poised to gain the competitive edge, a growing number of experts are concerned about America falling behind in these industries. Recent articles in the Washington Post, TIME magazine, as well as John Doerr and Jeff Immelt's op-ed published in the Post today, all highlight the escalating sense of urgency with which the U.S. must respond to Asia's rapid clean energy advancements. For more information about the clean energy race, see the Breakthrough Institute's ongoing coverage.
Fortunately, universities and youth climate leaders know that RE-ENERGYSE is too important to the future of our country to let go and will continue to advocate for the program. Prior to the passage of the energy and water bill, over 100 universities, professional, and youth groups submitted a letter urging Congress to fully fund RE-ENERGYSE. This action attracted significant media attention from the New York Times, Good Magazine, and other media outlets.
As University of Georgia student and Chair of the Sierra Student Coalition, Kelsea Norris emphasized in response to the letter: "So many young people like me are willing to devote their time and energy to solving this energy crisis. What we need is the education and training to do it, but our high schools, colleges, and universities aren't offering that to us."
Jessy Tolkan, Executive Director of the Energy Action Coalition, echoed the letter's call to action by directly addressing energy-conscious youth: "Young people across America need Congress to act today and help prepare our generation to confront the nation's energy challenges,"
RE-ENERGYSE will not lose relevance to the future of American prosperity anytime soon. Despite (and because) of this funding setback, it is even more essential that young people and students continue to push for RE-ENERGYSE and other education programs aimed at accelerating American expertise in clean energy.
If you are interested in supporting these ongoing efforts, contact Jesse Jenkins, Breakthrough Institute Director of Energy and Climate Policy at jesse[at]thebreakthrough[dot]org.