Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Jobs cut at energy lab restored before Bush visit

Jobs cut at energy lab restored before Bush visit
By Tom Doggett

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Energy Department said it has come up with $5 million to immediately restore jobs cut at a renewable energy laboratory President George W. Bush will visit on Tuesday, avoiding a potentially embarrassing moment as the president promotes his energy plan.

In his State of the Union speech last month, Bush called for the United States to use less Middle East oil and develop alternative energy sources, including renewable energy such as wind, solar power and biomass.

Bush proposed spending millions more dollars in renewable energy research. However, Democratic lawmakers and environmentalists questioned the administration's commitment when jobs were being eliminated at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado.

Bush will visit the lab on Tuesday to tout his proposal for more renewable energy research funding.

"The role of the government, at this point, is to continue to spend research dollars to help push (renewable energy) technologies forward ... to get these technologies to be even more competitive in the marketplace," Bush said Monday during a tour of a solar panel plant in Auburn Hills, Michigan.

To ensure the Colorado laboratory will have the people to carry out that research, the Energy Department transferred $5 million over the weekend to the Midwest Research Institute, the contractor that operates the renewable energy lab, to restore all the jobs cut earlier this month due to budget shortfalls.

"The action we are taking today will allow the dedicated employees at NREL to continue their work that will bring us great innovation in renewable energy technologies," Energy Secretary Sam Bodman said in a statement on Monday.

"The programs at NREL are critically important to realizing the President's vision to diversify and strengthen our nation's energy mix," Bodman said.

The Energy Department took the money from other accounts. The DOE said it will try to restore those funds by using money from several projects mandated by Congress in 2001 and 2002 "that have failed to make progress."

Bush's 2007 budget requests a 78 percent increase in solar energy research; a 65 percent boost in biomass research; and a 42 percent rise in hydrogen research, work that would be conducted at NREL.