White House Budget Proposal Endangers Clean Energy Efforts and Rural America

President Trump this week unveiled his first budget plan, a $1.1-trillion, 62-page “blueprint” that calls for massive cuts to programs important to rural America and renewable energy interests.

The new budget proposal is more a statement of Trump’s priorities than a detailed spending plan, emphasizing the need for a military buildup at the expense of domestic spending. A more detailed, line-item budget proposal for fiscal year 2018, which begins Oct. 1, is expected to be sent to Congress by the White House later this spring and offer more specific cuts. The outline published Thursday – “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again” – would cut or scrap funding for virtually anything that does not “advance the safety and security of the American people.”

But there is time to remind the president that security can also come from a growing economy, which can be sustained through policies and programs targeted by his proposal that, in fact, promote the development of clean energy and the jobs and increased incomes that come with it. Congress now must rescue the worthy programs at risk in this initial blueprint.

The president’s “safety and security” message at the heart of his budget plan is demonstrated by his call to increase military spending by $54 billion and to build a wall along the border with Mexico – a structure that has been estimated to cost anywhere from $12 billion to $25 billion, depending upon the source being quoted.

Unfortunately, DOE spending under the budget plan issued Thursday would be cut by $1.7 billion, or 5.6 percent. The proposal would eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), despite vast success the program has had 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.

The Trump budget plan would also slash some $900 million – or about 20 percent – from DOE’s Office of Science. While no specifics have been offered, the plan says the cuts will ensure the department “continues to invest in the highest priority basic science and energy research and development as well as operation and maintenance of existing scientific facilities for the community.”

The DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy is among a number of energy research offices expected to be cut to achieve what the plan calls a focus “on limited, early-stage applied energy research and development activities where the federal role is stronger.”

USDA is facing a $4.7-billion cut – or 21 percent – down to $17.9 billion. Longstanding farm energy initiatives like the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), the Biorefinery Assistance Program and the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), are not specifically mentioned in the budget plan, but, given the massive scale of the overall department spending reduction, can be expected to face huge cuts when a detailed proposal is issued in the next couple of months.

Facing even larger cuts proportionately under the Trump proposal is EPA, where funding would be slashed by 31 percent, down to $5.65 billion, and agency staff would be cut by more than 3,000 employees, a drop of more than 20 percent.

EPA’s Office of Research and Development would see its funding drop roughly by more than half in the next fiscal year, from $512 million to $250 million. A big focus of that cutback will be the agency’s clean energy programs, including renewable energy programs like AgStar, which promotes the use of biogas recovery systems to reduce methane emissions from livestock waste; and energy efficiency initiatives like Energy Star, a joint program of EPA and DOE that promotes efficient choices that can save money on energy bills, with similar savings of greenhouse gas emissions.

While the White House budget proposal paints a rather bleak picture for those who have championed federal policies that promote a cleaner, renewable energy future and the economic and security benefits that come with them, some encouragement must be taken from the reaction to the budget plan from key congressional leaders, who say much of what is offered in the “blueprint” is “dead on arrival.”

It is the hope and belief of 25x’25 that by working with clean energy advocates in Congress, governors who recognize the value of clean energy to their states, and corporations that recognize the boost renewable energy gives their bottom lines, the president will come to see that to achieve the economic and environmental goals he has espoused (most recently in last week’s speech to a joint session of Congress), the policies and federal investment that support the clean energy sector must be maintained or strengthened.

We would also point out – again – that rural America is a primary beneficiary of these policies and the jobs and economic boost they promote. Rural Americans will hold the president to promises he made to improve their way of life after they helped get him elected to the White House.

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