Bush Energy Plan Short on Science

David is a Deputy News Editor specializing in coverage of science policy, energy and the environment.

Researchers hoping for a power surge from the Bush Administration's new energy policy got barely a jolt when the White House released its much-anticipated report last week. Although the high-profile statement declares that scientific and technological breakthroughs are essential for stable U.S. energy supplies, it says little about which fields should be emphasized or how much money they should get.

The 170-page plan, written by a task force led by Vice President Dick Cheney, makes more than 100 recommendations for preventing future shortages, including controversial calls for drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and building new nuclear power plants. But there are just a few tidbits for scientists. Fusion researchers are happy about language that encourages continued funding for studies of building devices that--like the sun--can fuse atoms to produce more energy than they consume. And materials scientists cheered an endorsement of efforts to create superconductors.

The report, however, is silent on funding for these and other energy research programs, which face cuts of up to 30% in the White House's April budget proposal. Instead, it directs Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham to conduct a series of reviews and make recommendations to the White House.

Researchers are puzzled by other recommendations. One asks the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) to "make recommendations on using the nation's energy resources more efficiently." But plasma physicist John Holdren of Harvard University notes that he chaired a seemingly identical 1997 PCAST effort. "It's not clear to me [whether] the task force was aware of our results," says Holdren, who had no contact with Cheney's team. "I don't know if it makes sense to do it again."

The strategy "lacks any serious science and technology perspective," says physicist Ernest Moniz of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, the top scientist and third-ranking Department of Energy official in the Clinton Administration.

Related sites

The Bush-Cheney Energy Strategy
A critique of the plan from the Natural Resources Defense Council

Posted in Policy