Republicans Express Concerns Over Legislation Intended To Change Americans' Energy-Use Behavior
Today in a markup of the Science and Technology Committee, Republican members expressed numerous concerns with the intent of H.R. 3247, a bill that establishes a new social and behavioral sciences research program at the Department of Energy (DOE). Many Republicans at the markup fundamentally disagreed with the notion that changing Americans' behavior is a role that the federal government should play, while others argued that the National Science Foundation (NSF) is a more appropriate agency for this type of research.
"H.R. 3247 unnecessarily authorizes $60 million in grants over six years to DOE for research that can be done at NSF," said Science and Technology Committee Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX). "In our current economic environment, where our national debt is $11.6 trillion, we do not need to be throwing $60 million at a duplicative program."
NSF already has the authority to fund research in the social, behavioral and economic (SBE) sciences and is the primary federal funding source of such science. In FY09, NSF was appropriated $240 million (not including the $85 million in stimulus funding) for research in the SBE sciences. The FY10 request includes $257 million. Many Republicans argued that DOE research, on the other hand, focuses on areas such as physics, engineering, biology, and chemistry, and does not specialize in the SBE research called for in H.R. 3247.
Ranking Member Hall noted that "just last week in the Energy and Environment's Subcommittee hearing on the smart grid, a witness stated in his testimony that, Studies have shown that simply providing consumers information about their energy use can lead to reductions in consumption of between 10 to 20 percent.'" Hall asked, "Do we need a new $60 million program to tell us that?"
Discussing the role of government, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) objected to the bill because he doesn't believe it is the Federal Government's role to change Americans' behavior. "What's the nature of the relationship between Government and the people?" Diaz-Balart asked. "Do we need the Federal Government to start dictating every aspect of our lives? Is there no limit to what the role of the Federal Government should be; even going to the extreme of trying to change our behavior, because the American people are not capable of turning on a light and turning it off?"
Diaz-Balart continued, "I think this bill is going overboard and forgetting the most basic element of humans, which is common sense. The American people have the right to determine whether to turn on a light or not. It is not the Federal Government's role to change the way Americans make every decision."
Amendments offered by Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX) attempted to add a "sunset provision" to the program, giving the Secretary of Energy the ability to review the program after a certain amount of time, and terminate it if he or she deems the program to be an inefficient use of taxpayer dollars. These amendments were voted down along party lines.
Dr. Paul Broun (R-GA) also offered an amendment that would have changed the program to study the market forces and economics behind Americans' energy decisions. Broun contended that Americans are much more likely to change their energy-use behavior for financial and economic reasons. Broun's amendment was also voted down along party lines.
On final passage, H.R. 3247 was agreed to along a party line vote.
Also passing out of Committee today by voice vote were:
H.R. 3246, the Advanced Vehicle Technology Act of 2009;
H.R. 3165, the Wind Energy Research and Development Act of 2009; and
H.R. 3029, To establish a research, development, and technology demonstration program to improve the efficiency of gas turbines used in combined cycle power generation systems.