Amid Budgetary Chaos, Important but Little-Known Labs Are Facing Closure

Categories: Week In Review

What do the 2010 BP oil spill and heart surgeries have in common? The two things appear to be completely unrelated, right? But to the people who work at these little-known government labs across the country, they are not. That’s because their work runs the gamut from preventing this kind of man-made disaster to developing technologies and materials that can be used to make heart stents and heart valves.  

And this is just the tip of the iceberg of the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL)’s mission. Their research also helps reduce pollution, burn less fuel, and create safer methods to extract fossil fuels, which make up more than 80 percent of U.S. energy consumption. NETL labs are the only national labs dedicated to fossil energy research, which ensures our fossil fuels are used in a responsible, safe, and effective way.  

Their work is tremendous. It’s hard to imagine doing away with any of these new advanced technologies and medical breakthroughs. The Trump administration, however, is doing exactly that.  

NETL labs in Albany, Oregon; Morgantown, West Virginia; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania have been slated for consolidation with deep budget cuts while the Albany lab is slated for closure altogether. The plan shocked many people in these towns, including those in academia who question the rationale behind the cuts to these important programs that also create jobs in local communities. 

“The closing of NETL-Albany would not only impact the 143 workers on site; it would devastate other local industries. NETL-Albany has supplied the growth and sustenance of specialty metals industries such as ATI,  Selmet, and Pacific Cast Technologies. These industries continue to benefit from the presence of the facility and its closure would subtract an important reason for the companies, few of which  are locally owned, to remain here,” said Oregon State University Associate Professor Jason Ideker in a letter to Oregon Senator Ron Wyden. “On a personal view point it would remove a valuable partner for research and  education.”   

Winning the protection for our communities 

The labs with such great missions are run by dedicated DOE employees, 1,750 of whom are represented by AFGE. 

In a letter to congressional appropriators, AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. explained that closing and cutting funding for these labs would have a ripple effect in local communities as they collaborate with industry, academia, and other government organizations to leveraging investment in researching new technologies. NETL’s research portfolio includes more than 900 projects and activities in 25 states, with a total award value that exceeds $7 billion and private-sector cost sharing of more than $3.5 billion. 

“In order to continue this research and development, NETL needs to be fully funded, which is why I am asking the [House energy and water] subcommittee to appropriately fund the NETL so that our members can continue to do the important work that our country is relying on for its energy needs,” Cox wrote. 

AFGE locals and members, AFGE national vice presidents for District 3,4,11, and local stake holders in the affected towns also mobilized against the cuts and consolidation. There was even a change.org petition against the Albany closure.  

Lawmakers heard our collective voice loud and clear. They rejected the administration's proposed cuts and directed the Department of Energy to not pursue consideration or closure.  The bill passed the full committee June 12.    

Keeping the pressure on 

But we need to get everyone on board. We still need to talk to other House lawmakers and senators in the affected towns. Call (844) 669-5146 (D.C. office) or (888) 775-3148 (district office) and ask your representative to reject the consolidation and cuts to NETL labs! 


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