California May Decide to Fund Clean Energy If the Administration Won’t

Amid federal cuts, some state scientists and senators think California should create an energy research effort similar to its breakaway stem-cell initiative.

By James Temple, MIT Technology Review.

In 2004, nearly 60 percent of California voters approved a ballot measure that dedicated $3 billion to embryonic-stem-cell research, in an act of democratic defiance aimed at President George W. Bush’s earlier ban on federal funding.

Some prominent Californians are arguing the state should stage a similar revolt today, as the Trump administration proposes deep cuts to yet another area of critical public research: energy technologies that could curtail the world’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Nathan Lewis, a chemistry professor at the California Institute of Technology, says the creation of California’s Stem Cell Agency allowed the state to attract world-leading scientists and produce the bulk of research in the field for the better part of a decade.

“That’s a wonderful example of the opportunity that is before us, if we seize it, step up and actually promote R&D,” says Lewis, who is also a principal investigator at the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, an effort led by Caltech in partnership with Lawrence Berkeley National Lab to produce clean solar fuels.

The Trump administration’s fiscal 2018 budget would cut some $3 billion from Department of Energy research programs, including nearly $1 billion from the Office of Science, which funds JCAP and other “innovation hubs.” Meanwhile, almost $1.5 billion in cuts to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the elimination of the moonshot ARPA-E program would ripple throughout solar, bioenergy, and vehicle technology programs at Lawrence Berkeley and the Lawrence Livermore National Lab in California.

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