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Congressman Sandy Levin

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The Congressional Connector
 
Week of May 29 - June 2, 2006
 

Finding Long-Term Energy Solutions - The Need to Take Risks
With persistently high energy prices taking their toll on consumer's pocketbooks and the national economy, there is a clear need to find long-term solutions to our nation's energy problems.  The U.S. currently imports 58 percent of the oil we use.  Especially considering that the U.S. accounts for 25 percent of global oil consumption but has only about 3 percent of the world's proven oil reserves, it is clear that we cannot drill our way to energy independence.  Likewise, conservation and greater energy efficiency will only get us so far. 

Many people look to new technologies to supply the U.S. with affordable and sustainable sources of energy.  They are right, but how do we get there from here?  Should the federal government wait for the private sector to develop these new energy technologies?  How would the federal government decide which technologies to invest in? 

Last year, a National Academies of Sciences (NAS) report was released that was entitled, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm."  The report responded to the following questions posed by the bipartisan energy and science committee members of Congress:  What are the top 10 actions, in priority order, that federal policymakers could take to enhance the science and technology enterprise so that the United States can successfully compete, prosper, and be secure in the global economy of the 21st Century?  What strategy, with several concrete steps, could be used to implement each of those actions?

The NAS created a special committee of nationally-recognized experts to answer these questions, and the panel was chaired by the retired Chairman of Lockheed-Martin Corporation, Norman Augustine.  The Committee reviewed hundreds of detailed suggestions and then formulated recommendations relating to K-12 education, research, higher education, and economic policy. 

In its final report, the Augustine Committee report expressed deep concern "that the scientific and technological building blocks critical to our economic leadership are eroding at a time when many other nations are gathering strength."  In his testimony to the House Science Committee, Chairman Augustine said, "It is the unanimous view of our Committee that America today faces a serious and intensifying challenge with regard to its future competitiveness and standard of living.  Further, we appear to be on a losing path."  To read Mr. Augustine's testimony in full, click here.

One of the key research recommendations was to create within the Department of Energy an organization like the Defense Research Projects Agency (DARPA) called the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).  DARPA was established in 1958 in response to the launch of Sputnik to quickly turn innovative technology into military capabilities.  DARPA is credited for its work involving the Internet, stealth technology, smart bombs, and robotics. 

The proposed ARPA-E agency would sponsor "creative, out-of-the-box, transformational, generic energy research in those areas where industry by itself cannot or will not undertake such sponsorship, where risks and pay-offs are high."  ARPA-E would be designed as a lean and agile organization with a great deal of independence that could start and stop targeted programs on the basis of performance and do so in a timely manner.  ARPA-E would focus on "research that could lead to new ways of fueling the nation and its economy, as opposed to incremental research on ideas that have already been developed." 
 
Rep. Bart Gordon of Tennessee has introduced legislation [H.R. 4435] in the House of Representatives to implement ARPA-E.  The new agency would be established within the Department of Energy with the goal of reducing the amount of energy the U.S. imports from foreign sources by 20 percent within the next ten years through the development of transforming energy technologies.  ARPA-E would award competitive grants, cooperative agreements, or contracts to institutions of higher learning, companies, and consortia of such entities.

Rep. Levin is a cosponsor of H.R. 4435.

For additional details on the ARPA-E proposal taken from the National Academy of Sciences report, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," click here.  

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