Obama Budget Asks to Ramp Up Clean Energy

NIST and National Science Foundation also receive boosts; EPA cut.

U.S. President Barack Obama proposed Monday to ramp up research in clean energy and develop small new nuclear reactors, signaling that climate remains a priority for him despite tough budget times.

Obama's 2012 budget, while paring spending on the whole to curb a record deficit, would boost funding for the Energy Department by 12% as part of the administration's proposed doubling of science research.

But the proposal needs approval from Congress. The Republican Party, which defeated Obama's Democrats in November elections, is calling for deeper cuts in government spending and is largely skeptical about climate change.

The budget would raise funding to $5.4 billion for the Energy Department's science research office, including to develop solar and other renewal energy.

In one area that may find Republican support, Obama pledged to step up nuclear energy. The United States has been reauthorizing nuclear power, three decades after the Three Mile Island accident led to a halt.

The budget would provide $36 billion in loan guarantees to allow construction of six to eight new nuclear power projects. It would also devote $853 million for nuclear research including development of miniature nuclear reactors.

Advocates say that so-called Small Modular Reactors would avoid the hefty costs of full-fledged nuclear projects and could power limited areas, such as government buildings, without carbon emissions blamed for climate change.

The plan is far from reality. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2008 said starkly that it could take "years and years" to determine whether small reactors are safe.

Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, which is critical of nuclear energy, said small reactors could present costly new problems such as "new forms of nuclear waste."

The Obama budget also renewed his effort to cut longstanding subsidies for fossil fuels, which come in the form of tax incentives for oil companies and support for drilling.

The administration said that eliminating the subsidies would save $4 billion per year. But such efforts in the past have met strong opposition from the Republicans, who now control of the House of Representatives.

The Obama administration has repeatedly committed to fighting climate change. But a proposal for the first mandatory U.S. caps on greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming died last year in Congress, even with Democrats in control.

Obama's budget proposes to cut nearly 13% of the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency. However, the budget would still support the agency's work on climate change.

The State Department budget would also authorize an unspecified amount in foreign aid over climate change, including help to small islands and poor African nations worst affected by rising temperatures.

In addition, the fiscal year 2012 budget for the U.S. Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology proposes a funding level of $1.001 billion, an 8.9% increase over the FY 2011 budget request and a 16.9% increase above NIST's FY 2010 appropriations. The budget sets a 13% rise for the National Science Foundation, raising its annual budget from $6.9 billion to $7.8 billion.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2011

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