Today, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced that the just-passed Senate Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill includes $80 million for the University of Rochester Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) and its OMEGA Laser Facility. This funding level rejects the Administration’s budget request to cut the Lab’s funding and a 3-year phase-out of all federal support for LLE. The bill also maintains stable support for the overall Inertial Confinement Fusion (ICF) program at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) that supports LLE and other national laboratories. Today’s announcement is the continuation of Schumer and Gillibrand’s multi-year effort of advocating for federal investment in LLE. The Energy and Water Appropriations Bill provides essential funding that will allow the University of Rochester to continue pursuing its critical missions related to national security and energy independence.
“This significant funding increase for the vital U of R Laser Lab reverses the administration’s misguided proposal to defund it and eliminate over 300 high-tech Rochester jobs. I, along with my colleagues in Congress, have now twice rejected that proposal and instead have appropriated back-to-back years of funding increases to keep the Lab’s doors open and its workers on the job,” said Senator Schumer. “Securing this $80 million represents a two-year, $12 million increase to ensure that 340 Rochester workers can now stay on the job at the Laser Lab, keeping our nuclear weapon stockpile safe and reliable while pushing the frontiers of energy research at a time when countries like China and Russia are working to beat the U.S. to new technological advances.”
“This funding for the Rochester Laser Lab is outstanding news for Rochester and the surrounding community, especially for the 340 workers whose jobs are now safe,” said Senator Gillibrand. “The Rochester Laser Lab is one of our nation’s vitally important scientific research labs, and it would have been a huge mistake to close it down. I was proud to fight to ensure that the Rochester Laser Lab will stay open with even higher funding than it had in the past, and I will always do everything I can to make sure that Rochester and the rest of New York State’s cutting-edge research institutions are able to keep doing their important work for our country.”
The just-passed Senate Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 Energy & Water Appropriations Bill rejects a budget proposal made in February by the DOE to defund the Laser Lab within three years and eliminate hundreds of high-tech jobs in Rochester. In response, Schumer visited the Laser Lab earlier this year to announce his multi-prong push to reverse this proposed DOE closure plan and instead increase funding for the Lab in FY18 and FY19 to keep these 360 skilled Rochester workers on the job. Following his visit, Schumer and Gillibrand succeeded in securing $75 million for the lab in the Fiscal Year 2018 federal budget enacted in April, which was a $7 million increase from the lab’s $68 million FY16 funding level. The $80 million now in FY19 is a $5 million increase over last year’s funding and provides back-to-back years of funding increases to continue the Lab’s vital work and to keep the over 360 Lab employees on the job.
“On behalf of the University of Rochester and the 500 scientists, engineers, staff, and students at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE), I want to extend my sincere gratitude to Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand and the U.S. Congress for rejecting the proposed cut and closure of this state-of-the-art facility. This was a seminal moment in the 48-year history of the LLE and it is thanks to their leadership and strong, bipartisan support from Congress, that the LLE will continue to make significant contributions to the advancement of science, help enhance our national security and maintain our global competitiveness, and drive economic growth and technological innovation across New York State. With this funding, I am proud to say that the LLE will also continue to serve as the largest university-based U.S. Department of Energy program in the nation and home to the largest and most powerful laser systems found at any academic institution in the entire world,” said Richard Feldman, President of the University of Rochester.
With this funding, the University of Rochester will be able to continue its critical research and work in the fields of physics, optics, and material science, which have the potential to completely eradicate U.S. dependence on foreign oil and strengthen national security. This funding will also provide the resources necessary to support the Lab’s work in the Department of Energy’s nuclear Stockpile Stewardship Program (SSP). Since underground nuclear testing ceased, the only way to get the information needed by the federal government on the performance, weapons effects, and safety of our current nuclear weapon stockpile is by doing ICF (inertial confinement fusion) test experiments. 80 percent of these ICF test experiments are done at the University of Rochester Laser Lab. Absent this funding, the Lab could have been forced to lay off scientists and engineers, reducing their capacity and limiting their partnerships with national laboratories.
Established in 1970, the Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) of the University of Rochester is a unique national resource for research and education in science and technology, as well as a major asset not found at any other university in the country. Both the Rochester area and the University have a history of innovation that provides a singular environment for LLE within a technologically sophisticated scientific community. As one of the premier institutions training the next generation of leaders in the fields of physics, optics, and material science, LLE is an economic development magnet that provides high-tech jobs and attracts scientific talent to the Rochester community. Many Rochester companies, including Sydor Technologies, QED Technologies, and Lucid, were created as a result of the Lab and now employ hundreds of people. LLE’s work has also generated almost $16 million in business with more than 50 local companies across New York State.
Since its inception, the LLE has attracted almost $2 billion to New York State to support cutting-edge research, and more than 1,000 individuals are currently involved in the program. Through the LLE’s mission, the University also attracts as many as 300 additional visiting scientists each year to Rochester from national laboratories, universities, and companies, and currently hosts 141 students (graduate, undergraduate, and high school).
Gillibrand has been an active advocate for the University of Rochester’s LLE, pushing appropriators for continued funding for the laboratory in this year’s Senate Energy and Water Appropriations bill, which was passed in March, and Leader Schumer ensured the final Senate package included this vital support.