Hockfield Asks Gov’t To Triple Energy Funding

President Susan Hockfield testified before a House of Representatives committee on energy on Wednesday, making the case for tripling federal funding of energy research.

The hearing, entitled “Investing in the Future: R&D needs to meet America’s Energy and Climate Challenges,” was chaired by Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

In her testimony, Hockfield described a “triple knot of difficult problems” consisting of “a shaky economy,” “a geopolitical situation weighed down by issues of energy consumption,” and “global climate change” that plagued the country. Hockfield argued that increased investment in energy research and development was the common solution to all three problems.

Hockfield cited a drop in both government and private spending on energy over the past three decades. From 10 percent of the federal research budget in 1980, energy research accounts for only 2 percent today, said Hockfield. And while pharmaceutical companies and semiconductor firms invest 18 and 16 percent of their revenues respectively on R&D, energy companies spend less than a quarter of a percent of their revenues on research, she said.

Invoking the success of congressional funding in triggering information technology and biotechnology advances, Hockfield called on Congress “to spark an energy revolution.”

Urging Congress not to delay investments in energy, Hockfield warned that competitors like China, India, Germany, and Japan were not lacking in money or motivation to rapidly pursue new energy technologies. “We must make sure that in the energy technology markets of the future, we have the power to invent, produce, and sell, not the obligation to buy.”

Asking Congress “to triple current rates” of spending on energy research, Hockfield added that MIT “would be honored to help design … [a] detailed energy R&D roadmap.”

Hockfield’s testimony was joined by those of Stephen Forrest, Vice President of Research at the University of Michigan; Jack Fellows, Vice President of the University Corporation on Atmospheric Research; and Daniel Kammen, a UC Berkeley professor.

According to the MIT news office, Hockfield will be making another plea for increased spending on energy research next week at a press conference on energy at the National Press Club. She also wrote an op-ed article called “Reimagining Energy” for the Washington Post on Thursday which reiterated points from her testimony.

Since her inauguration, Hockfield has made energy research a top priority of her presidency and oversaw the launch of the MIT Energy Initiative in September 2006.

The committee Hockfield spoke to was, according to its Web site, formed early last year by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Cali.) “to address America’s oil dependence and the threat of global warming.”