Billionaire Bill Gates is urging the government to triple spending on what he says everyone, rich and poor, will need in the future: clean, cheap energy.
Gates and other business leaders were meeting with President Barack Obama and lawmakers Thursday to pitch their plan to increase the annual federal spending on clean energy innovation to $16 billion, from $5 billion now. But tight budgets make it a tough sell.
A report released Thursday by the American Energy Innovation Council called for an increase in spending and the creation of an independent National Energy Strategy Board to coordinate federal energy research.
Despite limited funds, Gates said in an interview with The Associated Press that the issue is imperative, especially for the poor.
"They're going to be the ones, when there are climate change affects, who suffer by far the most," he said. "And they need cheap energy. That's actually something that unites the rich and the poor."
The report outlines several funding options, such as reducing fossil fuel subsidies, adding fees on offshore oil and natural gas production, an oil import fee, increasing the gas tax and setting a price on carbon dioxide emissions. But the group didn't specifically endorse any of them.
The business leaders also said they were not getting behind any specific piece of legislation. Last month, Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. unveiled a long-awaited bill aimed at curtailing pollution blamed for global warming, as well as reducing oil imports and creating millions of energy-related jobs. The bill would for the first time set a price on carbon dioxide emissions produced by coal-fired power plants and other large polluters.
"We would hope that any energy bill, particularly that's raising revenue, would be heavily influenced by the council's report" and put revenue into R&D, Gates said.
The report also has three other recommendations: creating centers of excellence in energy innovation; increasing funding for the Energy Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which encourages "out-of-the-box" transformational energy research; and establishing a program for large-scale demonstration projects.
Gates appeared at a news conference with five other members of the group. Some suggested that the BP oil spill underscored the need for action.
"The incident in the Gulf just kind of intensified this discussion — that we have a fragile, brittle system," said Ursula Burns, CEO and chairwoman of Xerox Corp. Also attending were John Doerr, a partner in the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers; Tim Solso, chairman and CEO of diesel engine maker Cummins Inc.; and Charles O. Holliday, chairman of the board of Bank of America.
The business leaders said that whatever path is taken, it can't be the current one.
"We actually have a policy today," said Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric. "Our policy is uncertainty ... I'd say status quo for this country is a losing hand."
On the Web: The report can be found at http://www.americanenergyinnovation.org/
Source: The Associated Press.