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Posted at 5:14 PM ET, 02/14/2011

Budget 2012: Energy Department

By Steven Mufson

President Obama's plan would boost the Energy Department's budget to $29.5 billion, up 12 percent from the enacted 2010 budget and up 4 percent from estimated spending in the current fiscal year.

The department's total outlays, however, will drop as funds from the 2009 economic stimulus package run out.

Still, energy is at the heart of Obama's quest for innovation, national security and greenhouse gas reductions. His proposal would provide new money for energy research -- including three new "hubs" for battery and electric grid research, $550 million for Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and increases in budget authority for promoting renewable-power projects.

It would devote $3.2 billion to energy efficiency and renewable energy, a $1 billion, or 46 percent, increase over the fiscal year 2010 appropriation. That would include a "ShunShot" initiative to sharply lower the cost of solar cells.

In pursuit of putting more electric cars on the road, Obama proposes $588 million, an 88 percent increase, for helping communities that invest in electric-vehicle infrastructure. He would also alter the $7,500 tax credit for buyers of electric vehicles, making it a tax rebate available immediately at the point of sale.

The 2012 budget plan would provide an additional $36 billion in loan-guarantee authority for new nuclear power plants. The loan guarantees would save power companies billions in financing costs for the pricey projects. Last year's budget made the same request, which would have boosted the total of loan guarantees for nuclear plants to $54.5 billion. The higher amount would be enough for six to nine projects, the department said in a briefing. The budget also seeks $97 million to help with the engineering designs and permitting for small module reactors, which Energy Secretary Steven Chu said could help make the United States a global leader in nuclear power technology again.

The department, which oversees the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile, would also get $11.8 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a $1.9 billion increase over the amount enacted for the 2010 fiscal year. Within that amount, the Obama budget seeks $2.5 billion for non-proliferation, a program to secure nuclear material. That's a $439 million increase of the 2010 appropriation. But House Republicans' continuing resolution plan would trim that back, lowering it to $124 million below the 2010 appropriation.

House Republicans would also cut funds, including unused stimulus money, for energy efficiency and renewable energy, and for science accounts. They would provide no money at all for the ARPA-E project, something that had wide support in Congress. They would also keep, rather than abandon, the proposed Yucca Mountain, Nev., repository for radioactive waste from nuclear power plants.

Chu said that the Energy Department will sell 7 million barrels of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve because of "technical difficulties" in one of the giant salt caverns used to store oil. The department will drain oil from that cavern and does not have enough storage to transfer it to another location. He would not say when those sales would take place, but they will lower the budget request for the reserve by 50 percent, or $122 million, from the 2010 appropriation.

View agency budget document (Annotated PDF)

Budget 2012 analysis: Full list of agencies

By Steven Mufson  | February 14, 2011; 5:14 PM ET
Categories:  44 The Obama Presidency, The Agencies, The Budget  
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Although a 12 percent increase in the Energy Department's budget would normally be a great stride for advocates for alternative energies, the budget leaves out one important sector in the alternative energy world: fuel cells and hydrogen energy technology.

Why, one might wonder, do customers get an automatic $7500 deduction when buying an electric car but fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) are virtually left out of the legislation.

FCVs are ready for the roads whether or not the federal government is on board. They have taken strides at the state level, getting energy companies to join in infrastructural improvement efforts.

Fuel cells are not only used for cars; they have the versatility to aide our society in a variety of ways. They are in the market now in stationary and back-up power. Already, portable fuel cells have entered the market, light-weight enough for a soldier to carry on a mission, small enough to fit inside a hand-held electronic device. Fuel cells are the future. With zero emissions, almost no noise pollution, and with virtually no compromisable differences in the current gas guzzlers we drive now, FCVS are the cars of the future. Companies like Coke, Google, WalMart, Whole Foods, Sysco, Verizon, Siera Nevada and other major corporations are already using fuel cells.

It's about time we stop picking favorites. If a world of other alternative fuels get budget increases, so should fuel cells.

-- Kelly Fackenthall, Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association;

Posted by: kfackenthall | February 18, 2011 4:17 PM | Report abuse

No cuts here, more money down the "green" black hole. Nothing about coal, nuclear, or oil.

Posted by: drowningpuppies | February 14, 2011 7:09 PM | Report abuse

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