US President Barack Obama proposed Monday to ramp up research in clean energy and develop small new nuclear reactors, signaling that climate remains a priority for him despite tough budget times.
Obama’s 2012 budget, while paring spending on the whole to curb a record deficit, would boost funding for the Energy Department by 12 percent as part of the administration’s proposed doubling of science research.
But the proposal needs approval from Congress. The Republican Party, which defeated Obama’s Democrats in November elections, is calling for deeper cuts in government spending and is largely skeptical about climate change.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu said that green innovation was crucial for the United States to compete with other nations and lay “the groundwork for the nation’s future prosperity and security.”
“To lead the world in clean energy, we must act now. We can’t afford not to,” Chu said.
The budget would raise funding to $5.4 billion dollars for the Energy Department’s science research office, including to develop solar and other renewal energy.
In one area that may find Republican support, Obama pledged to step up nuclear energy. The United States has been reauthorizing nuclear power, three decades after the Three Mile Island accident led to a halt.
The budget would provide $36 billion in loan guarantees to allow construction of six to eight new nuclear power projects. It would also devote $853 million for nuclear research including development of miniature nuclear reactors.
Advocates say that so-called Small Modular Reactors would avoid the hefty costs of full-fledged nuclear projects and could power limited areas, such as government buildings, without carbon emissions blamed for climate change.
The plan is far from reality. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2008 said starkly that it could take “years and years” to determine whether small reactors are safe.
Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, which is critical of nuclear energy, said small reactors could present costly new problems such as “new forms of nuclear waste.”
The Obama budget also renewed his effort to cut longstanding subsidies for fossil fuels, which come in the form of tax incentives for oil companies and support for drilling.
The administration said that eliminating the subsidies would save $4 billion per year. But such efforts in the past have met strong opposition from the Republicans, who now control of the House of Representatives.
The Obama administration has repeatedly committed to fighting climate change. Last year was the hottest on record, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
But a proposal for the first mandatory US caps on greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming died last year in Congress, even with Democrats in control.
Obama’s budget proposes to cut nearly 13 percent of the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency, a bugbear for conservative Republicans, to $9 billion.
However, the budget would still support the agency’s work on climate change. The cuts would reduce funding for states to provide clean water and scale back an initiative that fights invasive species such as Asian carp in the Great Lakes.
The State Department budget would also authorize an unspecified amount in foreign aid over climate change, including help to small islands and poor African nations worst affected by rising temperatures.
Such assistance by wealthy countries is a cornerstone of international efforts on climate change as negotiators try to come up with an agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol.