Trump’s Berkeley Threat Could Hit Prestigious Energy Lab Funding

President Donald Trump’s threat to cut off federal funding to the University of California-Berkeley could imperil billions of dollars in energy research contracts to the university’s renowned Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Trump’s early morning tweet was in response to violent protests on one of the University of California’s flagship campuses. The demonstrations were triggered by a scheduled speech by a provocative right-wing speaker, Brietbart News’s Milo Yiannopoulos. The speech was canceled because of the protests.

The president didn’t single out the energy grants in his tweet. Nevertheless, if Congress were to follow through on the threat and eliminate federal funding for the university, a big casualty would be the energy lab operated by the University of California  and funded by the Energy Department. 

The scientific research center was awarded $874 million under its U.S. government contracts in fiscal 2016 alone, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Government. The lab has a partnership with the campus. More than 200 of the school's faculty members also hold appointments at the lab, which hosts several hundred of the school's researchers, according to its website.

Bloomberg Government graphic on Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory contract dollars.

Despite Trump’s threat, Congress has a big say in such spending decisions.

Senate Republican appropriator John Hoeven of North Dakota said today Congress shouldn’t cut funding "at this point" to Berkeley.

"Let’s start with a dialogue," he said. "I am hopeful we are going to hear from Berkeley and the students there and the faculty and they are going to say ‘we respect free speech.’”

Senator Lamar Alexander who chairs the Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee and the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee shook his head at the idea of cutting lab funding.

"My position is there ought to be free speech on campus," said Alexander, who was formerly president of the University of Tennessee and Education secretary.

Democratic appropriator Jon Tester said threats should be off the table. The Montana senator said Trump’s "trying to take differences of opinion off the streets is very dangerous to democracy and our freedom of speech."

Police determined it was necessary to scrap Yiannopoulos’s speech, which was booked by campus Republicans ,“amid an apparently organized violent attack and destruction of property,’ the school’s public-affairs office said in a statement.

“If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view - NO FEDERAL FUNDS?" Trump said this morning on Twitter.

-- With assistance from Kevin Brancato. 

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