Federal renewable-energy researchers laid off as lawmakers divert funds

In Tuesday’s State of the Union speech, President Bush called for more funding to develop alternative energy sources. Meanwhile, in the real world, scores of staffers at the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory are about to be laid off, and a pile of contractors along with them. Why? Because about one dollar in every five allocated by Congress for renewable-energy R&D goes to “earmarks” — pet projects in lawmakers’ home states or districts. When DOE is ordered to pay for these projects, it cuts spending in its own labs. While the budget for renewable energy and efficiency projects has stayed roughly steady over the past two years at $1.17 billion, earmarks spiked from $105 million to $160 million, according to a department spokesflack. So much the worse for the rest of us.