T2 Touchpoint — August 7, 2019

Published biweekly as part of the FLC’s DC Perspective news content, T2 Touchpoint gathers updates from inside and around the technology transfer (T2) community. News is collected from agency publications, news sites, and DC-central organizations, with original sources, contacts, and links provided in addition to our streamlined synopses. For more information and Touchpoint-related inquiries, please contact dcnews@federallabs.org.

Budget Bulletin

Bipartisan Budget Act Raises Discretionary Spending Caps, Promising Increased Science Funding

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer recently released a joint statement regarding the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019. According to the Act, the federal debt will be suspended through July 2021 and revises discretionary spending caps through fiscal year (FY) 2020 for both defense and non-defense accounts. For example, non-defense spending has increased 4 percent from $597 billion for FY 2019 to $621.5 billion for FY 2020. This is a decrease from the last budget agreement in 2017, where FY 2018 spending caps were increased by 12% for non-defense activities.

As 12 annual appropriations bills are still in various states of approval in Congress, this Act will need to be the gold standard for how the federal budget is allocated. The House-approved appropriations bills earlier this year, but did so under the assumption that non-defense spending would increase by 6 percent under a budget agreement. The Senate, on the other hand, has waited for a budget agreement like this to be drafted before releasing its own proposals.

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 can be read in full here. More on this as it develops.

ARPA-E Gets Proposed Five-Year Budget Increase

In June, we reported that the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) was evading calls for its closure. The House Appropriations Committee released a report that both rejected the Trump administration’s call to terminate the office and also increased its budget by 16 percent to $425 million.

Last week, House Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson and Energy Subcommittee Chairman Conor Lamb introduced the ARPA-E Reauthorization Act of 2019. To quote the House’s press release, “a substantial increase in funding would be necessary for ARPA-E to be able to sufficiently support the scale up of particularly promising technologies, such as advanced technologies for energy storage and power electronics.” ARPA-E has been underfunded since its inception and has only funded “about 1% of the proposals submitted for its open funding opportunities and 12% of the proposals submitted for its focused programs.”

To remedy this, Johnson and Lamb have proposed that ARPA-E receive increased funding over five fiscal years, starting in FY 2020 with the House Energy & Water Appropriations allocation of $428 million, and completing in FY 2024 with a $1 billion total allocation. Such a substantial increase would allow ARPA-E to continue championing scientific understanding, technological innovation, and patent applications.

The ARPA-E Reauthorization Act can be read in full here.


Policy Pulse

Energy R&D Initiatives Gain Policymaking Steam in House

The House Science Subcommittee has reviewed three bills that recommend the Department of Energy (DOE) fund and support research and development (R&D) initiatives for solar, fossil, and wind energy, respectively. This is the first widespread applied energy policy program since the approval of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Energy Subcommittee Chair Conor Lamb referred to this Act as “insufficient and outdated,” ensuring that this trio of new legislation would both reauthorize and invigorate DOE’s work with new guidance and activities. Information on each bill is below.

  1. Solar Energy R&D Act—Funding for solar energy programs under this Act would increase from $247 million to $328 million by FY 2024. To supplement this increased budget, the DOE is advised to stand up initiatives that are road mapped to address long-term challenges for up to 15 years. Focus areas of note include photovoltaic devices and related electronic components, concentrated solar power, and the long-term operation of a next-generation solar energy manufacturing initiative.
  2. Wind Energy R&D Act—Funding for wind energy programs would increase from $92 million to $126 million by FY 2024. DOE is directed to focus on the engineering of wind turbines and the mitigation of regulatory frameworks and barriers to energy to creating wind energy solutions, among other areas of study. This bill, along with the Solar Energy one, has been met with some criticism, with Subcommittee Ranking Member Randy Weber remarking that the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) has a budget of $4 billion, negating the need for additional funding.
  3. Fossil Energy R&D Act—Funding for fossil energy programs under this Act would increase from $740 million to $1 billion by FY 2024. The majority of funding is allocated to R&D for carbon capture, utilization and storage, with the total valued at $614 million. For the remaining funds, DOE is instructed to award grants to establish Carbon Capture Test Centers that would test and implement technologies to capture carbon from electrical power. In addition, the bill establishes a $75 million program focused on removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Each of the three energy R&D bills can be read, along with their associated amendments, here.


Agency Activities

NOAA Looks to New Weather Modeling Platforms

In June, we reported that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has suggested that forthcoming and widespread 5G telecommunications would result in a 77-percent data loss of weather satellites, causing a two- to three-day lag time in tracking hurricanes and other severe weather forecasts.

NOAA is now shaping its strategic vision for the Earth Prediction Innovation Center (EPIC). EPIC was authorized as part of the amended 2017 Weather Research Forecasting and Innovation Act in order to create a cloud- and community-based forecasting network. This community model seeks to unite weather tracking efforts from both the public and private sectors by leveraging a shared, expansive model repository. According to NOAA Assistant Secretary of Commerce Neil Jacobs, “This new framework streamlines the entire process and gives both researchers and forecasters the same tools across the weather enterprise to accelerate the development of forecast models.”

More information on EPIC can be found on NOAA’s website.

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DC Dispatch