Proposed cuts to Energy Department are a clear danger
In my earliest years growing up in Broomfield, in a rented house just over the hill from the Department of Energy’s Rocky Flats weapons facility, Colorado was an oil and gas state. The state suffered acute pain as those industries went through one of their frequent bust cycles in the ‘80s. Since then, I’ve watched my home state transform its economy into a more diverse and vibrant technology hub.
Companies like Lockheed Martin, Oracle, IBM, Level 3, and Google have located major facilities here, attracted by the scenery and climate and the high-skill workforce and technology ecosystem. The pillars of that ecosystem are the research universities in Boulder, Ft. Collins, and Denver, and the federal laboratories that work with them to push the boundaries of human knowledge and capability.
The farm that was then my home is now the corporate campus for Oracle. The cleaned up Rocky Flats is now a national wildlife refuge. The hill in between now hosts the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Wind Technology Center, where scientists keep Colorado at the forefront of the global technology race to produce cheap, clean electricity.
The federal labs I visited on field trips in my youth, and the research universities they partner with, have created an innovative culture and a pipeline of talented workers. When I joined the leadership team of the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, I saw firsthand what NREL, our crown jewel lab in Golden, could do. They, and the other federal labs, have catalyzed Colorado’s transformation into a national leader in clean energy technology.
It’s no accident that Vestas, a global leader in wind energy, chose to locate manufacturing in Colorado, as well as new companies in energy efficiency, smart grid, LED lighting, electric vehicle charging and related industries, resulting in over 60,000 jobs.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry raved about the economic growth NREL has created in Colorado and across the U.S. in a recent tweet congratulating the lab on its 40th anniversary. I’m sure he’ll have equally complimentary things to say when he visits the lab later this year. And all the while, he’ll continue to publicly defend the President’s proposal to cut DOE’s innovation budget by 36 percent, dealing a massive blow to NREL, Colorado, and U.S. competitiveness.
The reckless slashing to Department of Energy funding is stunning. Trump would reduce the renewable energy, energy efficiency, and clean transportation programs that Colorado labs specialize in to nearly a quarter of their current size. NREL would be deeply wounded, perhaps mortally so, and the effect on Colorado’s energy innovation ecosystem would be devastating. Companies and inventors looking for solid partners and stable markets will choose to operate these expanding industries in countries who value them, like China, the EU, and India. Sadly, President Trump is paying more attention to far-right ideology and a handful of donors than to these cold, hard facts.
Fortunately, there has been bipartisan consensus within Colorado’s federal delegation to support clean energy jobs and to resist efforts to cut back on innovation in the past. In March, these legislators helped beat back an earlier attempt by the president to gut energy innovation programs — and ultimately secured record funding levels for energy, scientific research and development. And in May, Sen. Cory Gardner and five other Republicans urged the President to change course in his latest budget proposal and support energy innovation funding — advice Trump rejected.
It’s up to Congress to do what’s right.
The Trump administration’s proposed cuts are a danger not only to our health and welfare, but to our economic well-being, particularly here in Colorado. The fight for our children’s future, and our economy, is now upon us. I hope and believe our leaders are up to the challenge.