Federal lab welcome

Published:

The Courier-Journal, Louisville

Kentuckians should welcome the scientifically ambitious, politically smart and economically promising push being mounted to get a major federal lab located in Somerset.

They will want, first and foremost, to assure themselves about safety, since the proposed National Bio and Agro-Defense Facilitys purpose would be to study highly dangerous infectious agents, capable of passing between animals and humans, for which no vaccines or therapies exist.

But such assurance should come readily. Similar national research facilities elsewhere have already compiled long, excellent track records of internal safety and external security, and the national homeland security authorities overseeing creation of this new lab are, obviously, even more security-minded than ever before.

In fact, considering the expertise, experience and resources involved, this laboratory would almost certainly end up posing far fewer hazards to Kentuckians than the mining and illegal drug trade that constitute so much of todays mountain economy.

It would also yield far more rewards and far more significant ones as also attested by the experiences at other labs. And not just because of the large payrolls the lab and its supporting services produce.

The facility would bring to Kentucky a large, resident cadre of pioneering scientific researchers, a steady stream of visiting ones, and all the social, economic and entrepreneurial benefits that such concentrations of intellectually creative people generate.

Further, it would institutionalize the revolutionary precedent being set by the bistate consortium thats been assembled to make the bid.

The normally competing states of Tennessee and Kentucky are working together, and the rival universities of Tennessee, Kentucky and Louisville are pooling their expertise in agricultural, veterinary and health sciences to support the venture, and all of it is being done in cooperation with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

In a state accustomed to interminable fighting over which school can beat out another to offer introductory engineering classes, this example of the necessity for big, boundary-breaking thinking this demonstration of the potential for innovative, expansive partnerships should reshape higher education thinking from top to bottom.

The big question is whether even this impressive Kentucky-Tennessee consortium will prove scientifically competitive enough when pitted against the likely proposals from research powerhouses in other states.

If it does, it certainly will be politically competitive, thanks to the timely alignment of the two states political stars.

In the House, Rep. Hal Rogers (in whose district the lab would be) is now the leading overseer of homeland security spending and has masterminded the bid. In the Senate, Tennessees Bill Frist and Kentuckys Mitch McConnell hold the top two leadership posts.

Much work and scrutiny remain, but based on whats now known, Kentuckians should embrace both this project and the high ambition behind it.

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