Energy budget reflects shifting priorities

The Obama administration is requesting $26.4 billion for Energy Department programs in 2010 -- a substantial decrease from the department's 2009 appropriation of $38.7 billion -- but Energy officials say it must be viewed together with the $38.7 billion the department has received through the economic stimulus.

Taken together, the fiscal 2010 budget proposal and the Recovery Act funds would advance the administration's twin goals of reducing dependence on foreign oil and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The budget puts the department on a path to fulfill President Obama's promise to double the federal investment in basic research during the next decade, in part by establishing eight new energy innovation hubs, multidisciplinary research and development organizations structured to field innovative, breakthrough technologies. The hubs will focus on solar electricity; fuels from sunlight; batteries and energy storage; grid materials, devices and systems; energy-efficient building systems design; extreme materials; and modeling and simulation.

The budget also significantly increases investment in renewable energy generation from solar, wind and geothermal, and in building technologies aimed at conserving energy. Funding for low-emissions transportation technologies and carbon capture and sequestration technologies to make electricity generation from coal much cleaner also received significant boosts.

The administration's 2010 proposal shifts money away from investment in a favorite Bush administration program -- development of hydrogen fuel cells for vehicles -- to one the Obama administration believes has more immediate promise, stationary fuel cells that could provide electricity for buildings.

Other programs would be cut altogether, such as $200 million for deepwater and unconventional oil and gas research. "This is something [for which] companies have incredible financial resources" to conduct on their own, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said.

Another top priority will be reforming the department's business operations. "We are assembling plans right now," Chu said. "Let me promise it will be very thorough."

It will be essential for the department to find more efficient ways to operate and to reform fundamentally the way it manages contracts and oversees programs if it is to meet its mission objectives, he said.

"It's going to take several years. This will require a cultural shift," Chu said.

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