The annual White House budget is supposed to represent the president’s values and priorities. Last month, the Trump administration released “A New Foundation For American Greatness.” But when it comes to energy innovation, the president’s plan would pull our foundation out from under us.
Trump’s 2018 budget cuts to the Department of Energy would be unprecedented, slashing innovation programs across DOE by 36 percent. That would include a $400 million cut in spending on nuclear energy research, reducing nuclear’s support by 31 percent. This would result in massive losses to programs that provide benefits across the U.S. economy. But what impact would it have directly on Idaho?
Let’s look. The Idaho National Laboratory, for one, is the nation’s leading laboratory in nuclear energy R&D and a foremost protector of the physical infrastructure for our country’s cybersecurity. The lab employs over 4,000 full-time workers and directly or indirectly contributes to over 11,000 jobs in Idaho.
These proposed budget cuts also threaten the Center for Advanced Energy Studies, which brought in $33.4 million in research funding to the state in 2016 alone. This partnership between Boise State University, the University of Idaho, Idaho State University and INL offers opportunities for young Idahoans to become international leaders in their fields, and contribute to the growth of the innovation economy.
The budget also decimates the scientific community supporting and using DOE’s Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear effort, with INL serving as a national test bed for private sector innovators wanting to commercialize new, advanced concepts. These emerging technologies could create lucrative new industries, and GAIN would keep Idaho right in the center of them.
The list goes on. The budget would terminate an advanced fuel program that supports multiple commercial vendors — even though it has nearly completed its two-decade development process — leaving taxpayers with the costs of shutdown but without the benefit of the completed product. The budget terminates a program supporting the construction of a small modular reactor to be built at the INL. The nuclear energy research programs that have enabled so much growth at Idaho universities would be cut dramatically. A $5 million program on cybersecurity for energy delivery systems has perplexingly been eliminate. And the list goes on.
Altogether, the proposed budget would lead to over 1,000 lost science positions and over $500 million in lost future economic growth in Idaho, according to an estimate from the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. How could Idaho and the U.S. continue to be a leader in innovation if these resources are lost?
While having an honest debate about the size and extent of particular programs is an important component of government, the priorities presented in this budget show that the Trump administration believes the U.S. should not even be in the business of encouraging innovation. The Trump budget is loud and clear to the American nuclear sector: Give up. Don’t look to the federal government to encourage young entrepreneurs wanting to start American companies, to partner with entrepreneurs willing to take risks, or to support a vibrant national R&D system.
The Idaho congressional delegation has long stood up for Idaho’s energy innovation, championing bills to improve INL as the nation’s nuclear test bed, calling attention to the importance of Idaho’s cybersecurity leadership, and supporting local labs through the annual appropriations process. Their commitment paid off in March, when bipartisan efforts led to record funding levels for energy and scientific research and development.
For the sake of economic growth, national security and job creation, we need Americans — and especially Idahoans — to support their members of Congress who are fighting for energy innovation. With the president’s proposal to slash DOE funding already under consideration on Capitol Hill, these legislators have the opportunity to push back against these unwise cuts.
Todd Allen previously served as the deputy laboratory director for science & technology at INL.