President Trump was generally lauded for the tone of his speech to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night, when he offered a more positive and optimistic assessment of the nation’s future than he had in his inaugural address or while on the campaign trail. Still, there were few specifics given as to how his administration will move into what he called a “new chapter of American Greatness,” particularly regarding his energy strategy.
His remarks reiterated his long-expressed desire to protect and grow manufacturing jobs in the country, and he said his administration “wants to work with members in both parties…to promote clean air and clear water.”
To those ends, we would suggest the president look to clean energy solutions as a pathway to the manufacturing, and air and water quality improvements he is seeking. This will require maintaining and enhancing key enabling policies and programs at USDA and DOE.
The president is preparing his fiscal 2018 budget proposal for presentation to Congress in about two weeks. An outline was sent to federal agencies Monday with “suggested” areas for spending reductions at each. Initial reports indicate the White House will seek huge increases in military spending, paid for in part with some $54 billion in discretionary spending cuts at most other agencies. (EPA spending would reportedly be cut by 24 percent, mostly at the enforcement level in Washington.)
As with the speech to Congress, there are no real specifics in the budget plan as to how these proposed cuts would be achieved. But we have made the case before – and continue to make it here – that the nation’s clean energy sector has become critical in its provision of economic benefits, (i.e. jobs) as well as environmental advantages, including improved water and air.
So, it only makes sense that to achieve the economic and environmental goals espoused by the president in his speech, the policies and federal investment that support the clean energy sector must be maintained or strengthened. It’s also important for the White House to remember that principal beneficiaries of these programs are rural Americans, a constituency that played a key role in Trump’s election last November after promises he made to improve their way of life.
The administration would do well to maintain support for farm bill energy programs, which have already seen mandatory spending cuts of nearly 50 percent per year since the 2008 Farm Bill. Lawmakers are conducting hearings now as they begin drafting the 2018 legislation that will authorize farm, food and, to a large extent, renewable energy policy for the five years to come. We hope the White House will join rural Americans in supporting these important policies.
For example, the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) provides significant incentives for farmers, livestock producers and rural small businesses to make energy efficiency improvements, and to purchase or install renewable energy systems. REAP also generates much-needed job and economic benefits in every state, serves all agricultural sectors, and leverages private investment at a cost-sharing rate of more than three-to-one. Still, the 2014 Farm Bill dropped mandatory funding for REAP by 22 percent compared to what was provided in the 2008 Farm Bill.
The Biorefinery Assistance Program, which provides financial incentives for the development of commercial-scale advanced biorefineries, is an initiative that helps reduce investor risk for emerging technologies and, like REAP, supports good-paying, American jobs. The Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), which has repeatedly been under assault by appropriators, provides financial assistance to owners and operators of agricultural and private forestland who are working to establish and produce sustainable, non-food, biomass feedstocks for delivery to advanced biorefineries.
Beyond the farm bill, DOE renewable energy and energy efficiency programs have been subject to funding threats through annual water and energy development spending bills. And now advocates of research funding for innovative energy projects like the Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program fear it may face cuts from White House budget writers. That’s despite vast success in driving new energy technologies that would otherwise have been too risky for the private sector to undertake. Since 2009, ARPA-E has awarded more than $1.5 billion for more than 500 projects, which, in turn, have attracted $1.8 billion in funding from the private sector.
25x’25 strongly urges stakeholders to remind the White House and lawmakers that these farm bill and DOE programs should receive priority consideration within a budget that strictly adhere to principles of fiscally responsible, as well as homegrown development. The programs are important to securing the contribution that agriculture and rural America can, and should, make to our national energy strategy, and they also represent modest investments that are producing huge economic and technological returns. They must be preserved.