August 30, 1999

Dear Congressman Tancredo,

I am writing to you to ask for your understanding, support, and comments on
some issues which are of particular importance to me.  I have included my
mailing address and phone number here in Lakewood so that in case you
cannot reply by email, you may write or phone me.

I work at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden.  While
everyone knows well that the world's reliance on fossil fuels cannot
continue forever, there is considerable variability in how people judge the
importance of alternative fuels research.  It is my opinion that the US and
indeed the developed populations of the world now value the health of the
global environment on such a scale that they are already voting with money
to improve the cleanliness of the power they consume.  That explains the
enormous popularity of wind energy (I am a WindSource customer here in CO,
and I hope that your local residence supports that as well) throughout the
US, where it is available.

My work at NREL concentrates on the basic science necessary for
understanding the application of photoelectrochemical cells to fuel
production.  Such research is making efforts and progress toward the
production of hydrogen from the sun.  As you know, hydrogen burns with
oxygen in air to produce energy and water as the only byproducts.  It is
bound to grow in popularity as time goes on.  In contrast to so-called
"renewables", fossil fuels are a polluting solution to our energy needs.
(Almost) nobody would argue that petroleum will have to play a crucial role
in meeting our near-term energy needs.  However, in order to remain at the
forefront of an increasingly important technology, I feel that the US
should strengthen our renewable energy research efforts.  This leads me to
two energy-related issues:

1.  It is my understanding that a small part of the DOE laboratory budget,
called DDRD (Directors' Discretionary Research & Development), has been
"zeroed out" by either the House or the Senate.  Regardless of the details,
I'd like you, if you agree with my position, to be a vocal proponent of
reinstating this funding.  My understanding is that someone somewhere there
in Washington is unhappy with how certain of these funds were spent (I
think under the old program name, FIRST).  Also from what I understand,
they may be justified in their concerns, as some funding went toward policy
and other research outside of the pure science for which the funds were
apparently intended.  I am not high enough on the ladder to have good
knowledge of the program's original intent, but my reaction to hearing
about this is one of frustration and anger with a political system that
would address problems with our DOE research by "zeroing out" the program
rather than addressing the problems the program encountered.  Surely there
must be a way to clarify the rules of such funding so that the program can
continue to fund important, innovative research.  I personally have a
proposal submitted at NREL which, if funded, could bring a critical new
measurement technology to NREL for application to a broad area of research
including fuel-cells, dye-sensitized semiconductor solar cells, and
advanced epitaxial semiconductor crystal growth (applicable to many areas
of research and technology).  Please look into the situation and do what
you can to help.

2.  At NREL, we are fortunate to host many talented visiting scientists,
from both the US and abroad.  One recurring observation by those from
Europe and elsewhere is the lack of a sound transportation system.  The
deficiency seems centered around the inability of someone without a vehicle
to "get around" town.  I see this as well, since I am interested in
supporting solutions to reduce the traffic congestion we can encounter
everyday here in metro Denver.  My best efforts have me riding the bus,
bicycling, and (mostly) driving to work.  What I see, of course, is a
prominent number of fuel-inefficient vehicles on the road.  I refer to the
SUV's.  Safety of all drivers is a tangential issue for me;  that drivers
of economy and moderately-sized vehicles are at increased risk when in an
accident with a more expensive (both financially and environmetally) SUV
seems to me an inapproprate "race to be bigger".  The oil and auto
industries don't mind it of course, because they can both increase sales by
this less-than-creative route.  To what extent does the desire of the
consumer drive the market, and to what extent is it the opposite?

I would like to see a significant fuel tax implemented, one which would
immediately encourage energy-saving behavior such as carpooling and
fuel-efficient vehicles.  The economical benefits for our country would be
impressive, according to some economists.  The tax proceeds could be used
to pay for the ever-increasing costs of maintaining our roads, as well as
for improving the convenience and reliability of our public transporation

I have some questions for you (and feel free to refer me to another
individual who can answer my questions if you feel that you cannot):

(a)  is the oil industry subsidized in some way by the federal governement?
If so, how much each year, and why?

(b)  Do you feel that the US would benefit from a significant fuel tax?

Sorry to be so long, but I have one more issue I'd like you to comment on.
There has been a great deal of talk recently regarding the US budget and the
surpluses we can expect in years ahead.  Many people would argue that since
we'll have a surplus, we should erase that surplus through tax cuts.  My
problem with tax cuts is that we miss the opportunity to exploit our current
economic strength to fortify the Nation's financial health.  It seems that
the US should use as much of any surplus as possible to erase the Nation's
debt; surely we would improve our financial strength and global influence
greatly by acting as a creditor nation rather than a debtor.  We should take
a very careful look at the benefits of paying off the national debt.

Thank you for being accessible to your constituents, and for considering my


Randy Ellingson
Senior Scientist
National Renewable Energy Laboratory