Bush Visits Renewable Energy Lab

Pat Vincent, left, with Public Service Co. of Colorado, and President Bush talk about reusable energy during a panel discussion at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Feb. 21, 2006.
President Bush on Tuesday acknowledged that Washington has sent "mixed signals" to one of the nation's premiere labs studying renewable energies — by first laying off, then reinstating, 32 workers just before his visit.

The president blamed the conflicting message on an appropriations mix-up in funding the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which is developing the very renewable energy technologies the president is promoting.

"I recognize that there has been some interesting — let me say — mixed signals when it comes to funding," Bush said. "The issue, of course, is whether good intentions are met with actual dollars spent.

"Part of the issue we face, unfortunately, is that sometimes decisions made as the result of the appropriations process, may not end going to where it was supposed to have gone.

"We want you to know how important your work is," he said. "We appreciate what you're doing."

Two weeks ago, 32 workers, including eight researchers, were laid off at the lab.

Then, over the weekend, just before Bush's planned visit, the government restored the jobs.

His trip to the renewable energy laboratory is part of a two-day, three-state trip to promote the energy proposals Bush outlined in his State of the Union address.

At the direction of Energy DepartmentSecretary Samuel Bodman, $5 million was transferred to the Midwest Research Institute, the operating contractor for the lab, to get the workers back on the job, the Energy Department announced Monday.

Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, said the decision restores only $5 million of the $28 million budget shortfall at the lab that forced the layoffs.

"The $5 million stopped the bodies from going out the door, but it doesn't provide the money for the (renewable energy) programs," Clapp said.

At the lab, where Bush was holding a panel discussion of his energy initiatives, the president saw tanks where agricultural waste is fermented into ethanol. He was shown samples of polar, switchgrass and corn stalks — material the lab is studying in hopes of developing a cost-effective way to use it to make ethanol.

"You're doing great work here," said Bush, who picked up a bottle of clear-colored ethanol and smelled it.