Innovative thinkers, engineers and scientists from across the country recently convened in Denver at the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit to discuss solutions to America’s energy and environmental challenges and how to move the latest technologies from the lab to the commercial marketplace. 

If the administration’s budget is enacted, however, it could be the last such meeting for some time.

ARPA-E, which stands for Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, was established by Congress in 2007. Since then it has become one of the country’s premier scientific programs. 

Christopher Guith (Photo by Ian Wagreich / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce)

Housed in the Department of Energy, it’s modeled after a similar and wildly successful “DARPA” program at the Defense Department, which can count the Internet, global positioning system and speech translation among its successes.

Like its Defense Department cousin, ARPA-E was set up to think outside the box and take a creative approach to tackling some of the most critical energy technology challenges central to our economic and energy security.

ARPA-E is able to bring together technical experts from different disciplines to attack problems. In the dozen years it’s been around, the program has created an innovation ecosystem that has spawned new business across the country.

Federal investments have already helped to develop lucrative new domestic industries, creating millions of new American jobs and making our country safer and stronger.

Secretary of Energy Rick Perry has regularly praised the program and the “very, very positive things that came out of it.”

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While the business community is investing billions in research, ARPA-E’s focus on high-risk research fills a necessary function business simply is not equipped to do. Business does, however, participate in and contribute to — and even helps initiate — many ARPA-E projects.

Despite its record of success, strong bipartisan political support in Congress, the encouragement of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the broader business community and the backing public at large, the administration’s latest budget proposes putting ARPA-E on the chopping block.

The latest budget proposal sent to Congress takes a fiscal cleaver not only to ARPA-E, but chops complementary programs supporting nuclear energy, fossil energy, efficiency, biofuels and renewables.

Continued U.S. innovation in these fields not only protects our position as a global energy leader, it also bolsters our leadership in solving global environmental issues like climate change that will require revolutionary advances in clean energy generation, transport and storage.

The American public recognizes the importance of innovation, too. An exclusive poll of likely 2020 voters conducted for the Chamber’s Global Energy Institute shows that Americans overwhelmingly support an innovation-driven approach to pursuing cleaner energy.

For example, this poll found that 79 percent of voters agree that the best way to address climate change is through investments into innovation and technology. ARPA-E can play a big role in that approach.

The good news is that the proposed budget currently being debated in Congress would restore funding for ARPA-E. The political fight is not yet over, however.

As Congress continues to work to pass its budget, we hope that it will resist efforts to dilute this program. Indeed, ARPA-E represents a rare opportunity for bipartisan progress this year.

In the past decade, American innovation has reshaped world energy industry and our own economy. Now it’s time to invest in the future. To see why, one need only to look to Denver and the visionaries who recently met there.

Christopher Guith is the acting president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute.

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @globalenergy