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Sen. Casey: More Money for Energy Research Needed

Funding for the National Energy Technology Laboratory is set to be cut by 20 percent in the upcoming federal budget, and that has U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania upset. 

The Democrat has sent a letter to House and Senate leaders calling for the restoration of more than $80 million in the NETL budget. 

Casey said the funding is important to not only the region’s economy, but also the future of the nation's energy supply.

"We can create jobs in natural gas, we can get control of our energy future instead of having our energy controlled by people in other places around the world … and finally allows us to do all of this consistent with our environmental laws and obligations as well as our values,” Casey said.

NETL researches and develops technology related to fossil fuel extraction and energy production. Past research from the lab has helped to make so-called “clean coal” technology a reality and make the efficient production of gas from shale deposits a possibility.

Casey said not only does the lab create direct employment, but also it helps to grow the region’s coal, gas and electricity production industries, which leads to more jobs and continued economic growth.

Casey said he thinks he can build support among other members of Congress.

“The good news here on this is that NETL, unlike a lot of things in Washington, is not the subject of partisan rancor and disagreement,” said Casey, who thinks that will help with the ongoing House and Senate debate.

NETL Director Anthony Cugini said he will work with whatever budget he has going forward but links the speed at which new discoveries can be made and new technologies can be released to the level of funding the lab receives. 

Cugini would not speculate what an $80 million cut would mean to employment or to any research project.

Casey does not want to see a slowdown of work product and, motioning behind him to a line of researchers, education officials and industry representatives gathered for a news conference Wednesday, said he has a broad coalition of support for his effort. 

“A broad cross section of individuals and institutions that are saying to Congress, ‘Don’t cut R&D, don’t eat the seed corn that fuels our energy research and fuels the job growth that comes with that.’”

Casey said he will continue to lobby for the funds even if it means some horse trading.

The lab employees 1,200 employees at five sites across the country, including more than 600 at its facility in Jefferson Hills.