U.S. budget boosts coal and nuclear power

Bush's budget request Monday cut funding for renewable energy, but increased spending for science.

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A president's priorities become clearer at budget time, even if Congress eventually rearranges things entirely. And that's true about the place of energy and climate change in President Bush's spending plan for next year.

Coal and nuclear power see big boosts in the 2009 Energy Department budget request sent to Congress Monday, and Mr. Bush is again calling for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The budget favors nuclear and "clean coal" options over renewable power sources, McClatchy Newspapers noted.

"President Bush proposed large increases for nuclear energy and for capturing and storing carbon from coal-burning power plants in his 2009 budget requests for funding to combat climate change. At the same time, though, his budget would cut money for solar energy research and would provide only a small increase for other renewable-energy programs."

Clean-energy advocates might wince at the emphasis on coal, oil, and nuclear power. But a big chunk of the energy budget proposal is for finding ways to reduce coal's greenhouse-gas emissions. Reuters reports:

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"Capturing carbon emissions from coal plants and socking them away in underground reservoirs was at the top of the [Energy] department's 2009 priority list. Carbon sequestration research received $400 million in funds, along with $241 million for demonstration projects."

The president also increased spending for earth-monitoring satellites, which are important for collecting information about global warming, including data on things like soil moisture content and ice packs.

The budget boost comes after several years of cuts in funding that the National Academy of Sciences had warned would make the US unprepared for "collecting vital information about global warming ." National Aeronautics and Space Administration sciences chief Alan Stern told the Associated Press:

"Think of NASA's blue logo as turning a little bit greener. We are amping up our emphasis on Earth sciences."

Green energy programs – conservation and renewables – fared less well in Bush's budget proposal, points out an online story from National Public Radio.

"Despite the president's more aggressive statements on fighting climate change, his budget request would reduce funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy – such as wind, solar, etc. The president gets much of that reduction by slashing funding – from $280 million to $60 million – for low-income households to 'weatherize' their homes with new windows, better insulation, and other efforts."

Many congressional Democrats, as well as community activists, are not happy.

Said David Bradley, executive director of the National Community Action Foundation, an advocate for programs serving low-income Americans, in a press release:

"In the face of rising energy costs, it is absurd that the President would propose to reduce help for the poorest energy consumers and to do less to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse emissions of low-income households."

Other critics point out the difference between the president's recent State of the Union message and what he's willing to spend. Said Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, in a press release:

"The president called for continued US leadership in developing energy-efficiency technologies and in using energy efficiency to help reduce greenhouse gases, Yet [Bush's] budget request confounds the president's own rhetoric by reducing funding for key energy-efficiency and research and development programs...."

In an election year, it's not surprising that members of Congress are pushing local and regional issues – corn-based ethanol in the Midwest, oil and gas in the Rocky Mountain states – in federal spending plans to be crafted on Capitol Hill.

Democrats also want tax breaks for green energy as part of an economic stimulus package, reports the Los Angeles Times :

"As Senate Democrats push ahead with legislation to blunt a possible recession, they are trying to get support for tax breaks for wind-farm developers, builders of more efficient appliances, and businesses that install fuel cells. It is unclear whether there is sufficient GOP support to make the incentives part of a stimulus package.... But the proposed benefits for green energy mark another advance for an industry that is becoming one of the darlings of Democratic-controlled Capitol Hill."

The administration's budget request also cuts $202 million for public transportation and transfers about $3.2 billion in public transit money to highway projects. Says William Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association, in a press release:

"The Administration proposal would reduce the balance in the Mass Transit Account to the point where, absent new funding, the federal transit program could not be funded in 2010 at even the current level."

On one thing everybody agrees: Production of federal budget documents this year – four hefty volumes totaling more than 2,000 pages – gives a break to carbon-absorbing forests. The Wall Street Journal reports.

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