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Rhode Island's Congressional delegation recently came under fire from a watchdog group for their support of an earmark that would fund research at Brown.

The attack came from Citizens Against Government Waste, a nonprofit, non-partisan organization whose mission is to "eliminate waste, mismanagement, and inefficiency in the federal government." The group criticized an earmark, sponsored by Democratic Reps. Patrick Kennedy and Jim Langevin, that will give Brown $1.2 million to conduct research on energy science and technology.

In its "Pork Alert" on the House of Representatives' version of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act, the group also claimed that Brown's endowment should be sufficient to fund research projects. We believe these criticisms are misguided.

The claim that research funding constitutes pork would be true if the project only benefitted local interests. However, unlike other instances of politicians looking simply to bring home the bacon, this research has the potential to provide solutions to the most pressing global environmental issues.

The project targeted in the group's report seeks to find novel methods of carbon sequestration, the process by which carbon dioxide is captured from the atmosphere and stored in a reservoir to lessen the impact of carbon emissions on the environment. Peter Weber, dean of the Graduate School and principal investigator on the group of projects funded by the earmark, told the editorial page board that Brown scientists are currently studying ways to capture industrial emissions from coal or other power plants. Considering the well-documented risks associated with emissions-induced global warming, this project and others like it could have a profound impact on the entire planet.

Indeed, scientists have begun to link the increasing frequency of extreme weather events to climate change, according to a recent New York Times article. The only thing being wasted is time, as our country generally appears to be dragging its feet in addressing the serious threats posed by Earth's warming temperature.

In addition to research on carbon sequestration, the funding will also support a number of investigations, all related to energy science, Weber told the board. Researchers are trying to create more efficient fuel cells and develop other methods for capturing carbon dioxide using bacteria. All of these projects aim to lessen the environmental damage caused by the world's heavy use of fossil fuels. We're disappointed to hear these research projects dismissed as a waste of government funding.

Moreover, the size of Brown's endowment is unrelated to the amount of research funding the University has at its disposal. Income from the endowment is spent in accordance with the wishes of donors, Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Elizabeth Huidekoper wrote in an e-mail to the board. While things like faculty salaries and financial aid are supported by the endowment, funding for graduate students and lab necessities often has to come from other sources.

In fact, Brown regularly receives grants from government agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Together these institutions will spend almost $40 billion in 2011 to fund research in science and medicine at universities, nonprofits and private companies across the country. Without government backing, many universities, Brown included, would find it far more difficult to support the kind of projects that might lead to lasting global change.

We don't blame Citizens Against Government Waste for being concerned about government spending, but we do think it should reconsider its definition of waste.



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