Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Remarks at ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit 2012
Senator Coons: Thank you so much, Arun, thank you -- Dr. Majumdar, the first and greatest director of ARPA-E, a vocal advocate for the ecosystem of innovation, a great ambassador. In my view, Arun is one of the most inspiring people I've met in my first year-and-a-half in the United States Senate.
He seamlessly bridges the worlds of government, laboratory, finance and will be a great undersecretary of energy.
It is a true shame that partisan obstruction has delayed his confirmation and paralyzed the Senate in moving forward on his nomination, and he is not the only one. There's four other senior energy nominees.
As I presided over the Senate yesterday, I looked through the book with literally a dozen pages of senior positions unfilled, unconfirmed in this administration. This type of dysfunction couldn't happen at a worst time for our country.
Just as we've hit 23 months in a row of steady private sector growth, the innovation economy in my view is the key to sustaining our recovery and to putting our country back on a path towards contributing in a major way to the growth of the entire world.
The only piece of this ecosystem, as I was just saying back stage, that is failing in its mission to deliver, it's not the investors, it's not the innovators, it's not the academic researchers, it's not the business leaders.
All of you who are convened here today are inspiring examples of leadership in the energy field. It falls to us, to the members of the Congress to get over our petty partisan differences and make the decisions we need to make to move America forward.
American innovation -- please, a round of applause for the failure of Congress.
Let's be frank, there will be a clean energy future for this planet. The dynamics of the marketplace, the dynamics of emerging technologies that President Hartfield just spoke about that we heard about earlier from Senator Bingaman and from Congressman Fattah, they're all well and clearly laid out.
The question isn't whether there will be dramatic innovation, new technologies and whole new market economy, the question is whether American companies, American communities, American workers will be at the center or the periphery. Whether we will seize this moment in history and actually lead, or whether we will watch it pass us by.
If America's going to lead in the clean energy economy, we have to work together. The private sector can and will drive and finance these innovations. The academic and national lab community will make the critical inventions and innovations needed, but the government and in particular the Congress and the administration, the national level, must set the policy environment to sustain these innovations.
We have critical decisions to make, in intellectual property, in tax, in trade and in regulatory approaches which if done right and done swiftly can put us on the right path. At the moment though, sadly, we seem locked in a dysfunctional partisan failure to communicate.
This conference, this entity ARPA-E, this room full of people is an exact -- is a precise example of what it is we need to see in Washington and in our political system, collaboration, cooperation, listening to each other and learning from each other. The sorts of partnerships that make cutting edge technology translate into market changing innovations.
I've been struck at the breadth and the vision of the innovative changes that ARPA-E has already been funding in just its three short years of existence, and I draw enormous inspiration from being with you and from visiting the hall and from learning in detail about a number of the innovations that ARPA-E has already made possible.
Let me pick two which just happen to be from Delaware, which just happens to be where I'm from, but that really do helps sustain my sense of enthusiasm for ARPA-E as a model and for the work that all of you are doing together.
The University of Delaware is leading a national combination of university researchers, national lab researchers and potential partners in the private sector to deliver high energy permanent magnets, magnets which we used to be the world leader in but where we've lost our critical edge.
And where some of the critical components come from outside the United States and are subject to regular interruptions in terms of supply.
The R&D that the University of Delaware is doing in the (idinium) iron boron magnets is cutting edge and shows very real promise for doubling the energy density, producing more cost efficient and more effective lower cost permanent magnets useful in everything from wind turbines to hybrid vehicles.
DuPont is working on the first commercially viable process for producing isobutanol from seaweed, a drop in fuel at very large scale. It's one of many projects in this space that have been funded through ARPA-E.
And it was striking to me literally yesterday, on the floor of the Senate, to hear a very senior Senator mock the very idea that algae could at any point produce a usable bio-fuel, that this is anything other than some leftist pipedream.
Senator Bingaman spoke about our inability to hear from each other and our inability to learn from you. Well yesterday folks spoke at this conference who I think are not given to leftist pipedreams.
When you heard from Fred Smith of FedEx, and from Lee Scott of Walmart about how changes in energy efficiency, changes in how we produce, and store and distribute energy and the promise of things like drop-in fuels derived from algae or seaweed have very real promise for reducing their bottom line costs and improving their operational efficiency.
I was left with the impression that I only wish other members of the Senate and the House would come and visit this conference, would come and walk the halls and hear about the very real innovation that you're delivering.
This is an important moment for America. This is a critical moment for all of us in Congress not to talk at each other but to listen to you and to learn from how you're able to work together to make the policy changes we need to make to build on this moment.
The kinds of innovations that can power the clean energy economy are what we need more of not less. And the kinds of opportunities working together are what we need more of not less.
So as a member of the Budget Committee and a member of the Energy Committee, I intend to strongly support the administration's move to significantly increase our investment in ARPA-E.
President Obama's FY13 budget proposes a nearly 30% increase in ARPA-E funding, and in my view, that's exactly the direction in which we ought to go. We should be investing more not less.
There are some in Congress, as I've mentioned, who simply mock the concept that we can make progress in clean alternative energy, and who think that we are picking winners and losers in technology in a way that's not needed and not appropriate.
As Senator Bingaman said in his opening comments this morning, it is also just this sort of energy technology research that has opened up vast resources of natural gas that have expanded the use of horizontal drilling and made fracking possible so we aren't picking winners and losers.
The work that ARPA-E is doing, in my view, is making possible whole scale innovations in energy production, storage and distribution across all the different channels and streams of energy, and they are critical to achieving energy independence to the entire United States.
This is the kind of work Congress should be supporting, and this freshman Senator commits to you that as long as the people of Delaware will -- as long as the people of Delaware will tolerate my service, I will be a tireless advocate for the funding that ARPA-E needs and for the model that APRA-E represents.
Let me just talk for a moment if I could about Chairman Bingaman who spoke earlier today. And in his typical fashion laid out a clear eyed vision for the path forward. I've had the honor of serving with Chairman Bingaman just one year. Many of you have known him decades.
But as I sat here in the audience and listened to his comments I was reminded once again of what has made him a successful bipartisan policy leader. Serving on this committee with him and with Senator Murkowski of Alaska has been for me an opportunity to learn from someone whose intellect, whose character and whose simple decency have come through in every debate and in every dialogue.
And whose determination to really lead in this field from calling on the study that produced the gathering storm report to championing the America Competes Act to insisting on the establishment and funding of ARPA-E, to proposing the creation of the Clean Energy Development Administration CETA, to his action this week to introduce a bill that lays out a path forward for a national clean energy standard.
Senator Bingaman has tirelessly, passionately, positively, moved towards a better energy future for our whole country. And I think all of us owe him a round of applause in recognition of his leadership in this space and for setting a bipartisan example.
Frankly, it was hard at the end of his remarks not to hear a certain heaviness in his heart as he recounted the very real progress that was made on bipartisan energy efficiency standards, on lighting innovation, on financing vehicles only to run into the buzz saw of partisanship between the chambers and between the parties.
And in particular I share his sense of deep dissatisfaction over our failure to advance some of the financing tax extenders in the most recent package. Know that there are a dozen passionate Senators continuing to press for this. And know that we recognize that not just in wins but in many different sectors our failure to continue to deliver a supportive, predictable, long-term tax trade IP and policy framework is the biggest threat to our success in energy innovation.
I offer myself as someone who is determined to continue as a catalyst in this field, as a sustainer of your work, and as someone who sees the power and potential of innovation.
I think there are many things we can and should do. I'll just mention one if I could in closing. I long worked in a company where the R&D tax credit was a big part of how we financed innovation, how we sustained the 1,000 research engineers that we had across all our facilities across this country.
But that R&D tax credit is frankly terrible federal tax policy. It expires more times than it's renewed, it goes on again, off again, there's more months when it's not accessible than when it is, and the way it's currently structured is only usable to established profitable companies.
It does not provide the lifeblood of financing for early stage or startup companies that are trying to make a difference in demonstrating and bringing to market potentially category changing technologies. So I've pressed, I've proposed, I've introduced a new model for the R&D credit that would add tradability or refundability to the R&D credit.
Why? Because I think it could get past the partisanship of the moment. That's not choosing technologies, that's not picking winners or losers, it is broadening the community of folks who will fight to sustain the R&D credit when the inevitable very tough challenges of broad tax reform come at the end of this calendar year and it creates a way to sustain tax credits that support innovation that are not specific to one channel or one technology.
I think we owe it to you to deliver consistent tax policy, to make the tough changes in immigration, in intellectual property, in trade promotion that will sustain what you do.
As we were fighting internally over my calendar and making time to accept this wonderful invitation to speak today, I insisted on clearing not just a few moments to speak to you, but enough time to go and walk the hall and to visit with you individually to hear from you.
Because every bit as much as you need us to get the policy environment right, we need you to continue to challenge and inspire us to see beyond the partisanship of the moment and towards the very real opportunities to transform our nation and our world that you represent.
So please, when you hit hard moments in the year ahead, when your test run fails, when the money threatens to run dry, find a way to keep working, to keep reaching out, to keep connecting and to keep innovating. And I pledge to you that I will continue drawing inspiration from your example, from your willingness to risk, to dream, to do and to deliver.
This is the room from which literally hundreds of compelling innovations will be shared with our nation and our world. I can't think of a more exciting place to be today, and I can't think of a more important community to invest in, to sustain and to work with for our long term future as a nation and a people.
Thank you so much for what you do and thank you to ARPA-E for being a source of inspiration for us all.