WASHINGTON — 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.
The administration proposes to spend $8.6 billion on climate change programs next year, largely for scientific research on global warming and for research on technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The total is up 16 percent from $7.4 billion this year.
The program on energy efficiency and renewable energy would increase overall by just 2 percent over 2008. Within that program, funding for solar energy would decrease by $12 million, a 7 percent reduction from this year.
Scientists long have called for robust increases in government funding for research and development in many types of clean energy technologies in order to reduce the risks of climate catastrophes in this century.
The funding for climate research was part of an overall federal research and development section of the president's proposed 2009 budget of $147 billion, an increase of $3.9 billion, or 3 percent, over 2008. John Marburger, the White House Office of Science and Technology policy director, said the increase was modest but that the money could be used more productively if Congress didn't employ earmarks to direct how much of it would be spent.
The administration's climate change-technology program proposal includes a 21 percent increase in spending on fossil fuel-energy research and development programs, mainly for the search for a way to capture and store carbon from coal, and a 40 percent increase in nuclear energy research. It proposes a $3 million increase for wind research, or 6 percent.
To prevent devastating climate shifts, scientists say the world's greenhouse gas emissions must stop increasing sometime between 2015 and 2020. After that, they must drop every year, hitting an 80 percent reduction over 1990 levels by 2050. The Bush administration has accepted the analysis.
Marburger said private companies were picking up more of the costs of wind and solar research. But he said that the federal government needed to spend much more to develop a way to capture carbon from coal burning.
John P. Holdren, the director of the Woods Hole Research Center and a professor of environmental policy at Harvard University, said in a speech to the American Association for the Advancement of Science that was published recently in Science magazine that the many clean-energy technologies that scientists and engineers should be seeking probably would require a twofold to 10-fold increase in public and private spending.
It sounds daunting, he said, "but the amounts involved are astonishingly small compared to what society spends for energy itself."
"There are signs that the private sector is ramping up its efforts," he wrote, but governments also must expand funding, and "sadly, until now there has been precious little sign of that happening, notwithstanding abundant rhetoric from political leaders about new technologies being the key to the solution."
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., the chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, criticized the administration's plans to end funding for research for oil and natural gas and to reduce funding for solar and hydropower research and industrial energy efficiency.
"If American energy-intensive industries, and the jobs they provide, are to prosper in a future in which we impose a cost on carbon dioxide, we need to act aggressively now to position them as global leaders in energy efficiency of all kinds," Bingaman said. "It's a bad time to be rolling back this societal investment in our future high-wage jobs."
Among the programs Bush wants to eliminate is one that helped low-income Americans weatherize their homes. Bingaman criticized that cut, too, saying that many people needed help to reduce their energy bills and that the program also created construction jobs.
Miriam Pemberton of Foreign Policy in Focus, a group of scholars and peace and environmental activists, argued in a report last week that the government should shift some spending from the military to climate. The report said the Bush administration had budgeted $647.5 billion for the military in 2008, compared with $7.4 billion for climate change, a ratio of nearly $88 to $1. The White House hasn't included the full amount of war spending in the 2009 budget request.