Climate Change Demands Out-of-the-Box Thinking (Rep. Bart Gordon)

The House Committee on Science and Technology took an important step toward energy innovation and security this week with the passage of H.R. 364, a bill to establish an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E).

I first introduced this bill in the 109th Congress in response to recommendations in the National Academies report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm. This report recognized that the U.S. dependence on traditional energy sources and outdated technologies puts us in a perilous position.

We cannot afford to wait until we face severe disruptions to fossil energy supplies or serious impacts from climate change to address this challenge. The Gathering Storm report recommended establishing ARPA-E, modeled on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) successful innovation model, to sponsor creative, out-of-the-box, transformational energy research in those areas where the private sector cannot or will not invest on its own.

DARPA succeeded largely because it fostered a culture of innovation. We cannot legislate an agency's culture. But we can set up a nimble organization with minimal administrative layers and the ability to quickly start and stop research programs. These elements are key to the success of ARPA-E, and to transforming energy R&D from the laboratory bench into market-ready technologies.

This transformation simply won't happen on the cheap. We must commit to providing adequate resources to get us there. We simply have not been making the kind of investments needed to move us into a new energy future. During the past 35 years, we have become more dependent upon foreign energy supplies and greenhouse gas emissions have grown so that we face an uncertain future due to climate change.

During this same time period, federal investment in energy technology R&D has declined by 85% from its peak in 1978. We must reverse this trend. Investment in ARPA-E must be seen as the first step in boosting energy research and development to a level that addresses the true scale of the challenge before us, and the true cost of doing transformational research.
Establishing an ARPA-E in H.R. 364 is a bold step, but we've got to be willing to push this envelope, make some tough but firm commitments to get the job done.