President Arrives In State To Talk About Renewable Energy

National Renewable Energy Lab Visit On Agenda

President George W. Bush arrived in Colorado Monday night as part of a mission to tout alternative energy sources.

Bush, in his State of the Union speech, said the nation is so addicted to oil that it has become dependent on foreign imports.

On Tuesday, he is scheduled to visit the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, where 32 jobs at the labs were eliminated by budget cuts earlier this month. Those jobs were restored two days before the president's visit.

Those employees whose jobs were cut and then restored said Monday that they were relieved but concerned about the nation's commitment to achieving energy independence.

Lab officials had to contend with a $28 million budget cut this year and initially estimated that 100 jobs might be cut. The lab limited layoffs by delaying some equipment purchases, making cuts in travel and subcontracting, but eight researchers and 24 support staffers were let go. The Energy Department was able to restore the jobs by shifting unused funding from other accounts, according to Republican Sen. Wayne Allard's office.

Renee Azerbegi, the past president and a current board member of the Colorado Renewable Energy Society, questioned the timing of of the announcement that jobs had been restored just before the president's visit.

"I think it has a lot to do with Bush's image," she told reporters. "I don't think they want Bush to visit NREL knowing a lot of people there are unhappy with him."

Matt Baker, executive director of the group Environment Colorado, said he believes reinstating the jobs "has a lot to do with the president coming to town."

"He should come to town more often," Baker added. "The important thing to look at is not so much the president's words, but the president's and Congress' actions ... I worry that it is a photo-op."

Lab spokesman Gary Schmitz said the lab applauded the DOE for finding the money for the jobs and had started contacting the laid-off employees.

Tina Larney, a temporary employee hired at the suburban lab to work with state and local governments, said even though the jobs are being reinstated, she still questions the government's commitment to solving the nation's energy problems.

"There is technology available now, there is the know-how now. What is lacking is leadership on the large scale at the national level," Larney said during a news conference Monday.

Gary Nakarado, who worked on regulatory issues for 13 years at NREL, said he hadn't yet received a call to return to work. He said he had "a sense of irony" about the layoffs announced just a week after Bush proposed a 22 percent increase in clean-energy research covering coal plants, nuclear energy and solar and wind power.

"Thirty-two people, whether we have jobs or not, is not what's important here. What's important is that we have a national and global issue that needs to be faced and the United States should be the lead on that," said Nakarado.

Rep. Bob Beauprez, R-Colo., said he didn't believe the restoration of the jobs and Bush's visit were linked.

"They managed to come up with a good plan to restore the funding and right the ship," he said on Monday.

The lab employs about 930 people in Golden.

"I'm glad their jobs are restored and I guess we all could have figured out a way to handle it better," said Gov. Bill Owens.

The president will spend Monday night in Arapahoe County.

On Tuesday morning, he will take part in a panel discussion of energy conservation. The lab, which is run for the Energy Department by the Midwest Research Institute and Battelle, analyzes everything from solar and wind power to biomass and superconductivity.

Energy Department spokesman Craig Stevens said the president wants to double the overall science budget.

"NREL has no peer when it comes to working on renewable energy and I would expect them to be a beneficiary of that increased spending and investment," Stevens said.

Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., met with Bush last week and said he stressed that the lab is "the crown jewel" of renewable energy research and technology. He said the president indicated he would request additional funds for NREL in the 2007 budget.

Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., who joined about 100 members of Congress in November to seek more funding for renewable energy and energy efficiency, said Bush has the opportunity to move the country down the right path.

"It's going to take serious leadership, not just a photo (opportunity)," said Udall, co-chairman of the House Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus.

He said the government has funded only a third of the money the 2005 Energy Policy Act authorized for renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The proposed budget for the federal Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which includes the national lab, is $1.2 billion and amounts to less than a 1 percent increase.

Kateri Callahan, president of the Washington-based Alliance to Save Energy, said Bush's proposed budget for 2007 would reduce energy efficiency programs to a third of their 2002 funding after adjusted for inflation.

"They're robbing programs that can provide immediate relief to explore future solutions," Callahan said.

Bush has said he wants to drastically cut imports of Middle Eastern oil by 2025.

Bush skeptics say that funding for NREL has dropped during his administration. However, funding for renewable energy research is up in this year's budget.

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