Testimony from Energy Secretary Rick Perry before a House appropriations subcommittee Tuesday did little to ease concerns from clean energy advocates over a Trump administration budget proposal that wreaks havoc on his department’s research programs. Perry insisted that the cuts were in line with DOE policy that would now engage in only start-up research, while calling on the private sector to bring new technologies and advances to a commercial scale.
But clean energy supporters – and members of the congressional subcommittee – questioned if the spending levels for DOE research proposed by the White House are sufficient to fund even the most minimal development of energy sources.
Going all the way back to March when the administration first released its “skinny” budget proposal that called for massive cuts across the board – essentially to help pay for a similarly large boost in defense spending – lawmakers have been saying that they will be the ones to determine federal spending levels, not the White House, and they have virtually dismissed President Trump’s proposals as “dead on arrival.”
Still, the political climate under this administration is such that those who support even the most advantageous programs that generate considerable private investment at little cost to the taxpayer, fear for their future.
That’s why the nation’s major renewable energy trade groups wrote a letter to congressional leaders last week calling on lawmakers to fund programs that have helped “support job creation, economic growth and our country’s dominant technological position in electric power and renewable energy research and development.”
The trade groups and other clean energy champions specifically cite energy programs at DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Advanced Research Programs Agency – Energy (ARPA-E).
Under the president’s proposed budget, EERE would see a 70-percent budget cut ($1.4 billion), including a 74-percent cut to its solar, wind, water and geothermal programs. NREL’s budget would sustain a 22-percent cut, the lab’s energy-storage research eliminated, and solar energy research would be cut by 22 percent.
ARPA-E, which nurtures innovative energy technologies aimed at boosting national security and addressing climate change, but which are too early in the development process to garner private-sector investment, would virtually be killed under the Trump proposal. Created during the President George W. Bush administration, ARPA-E would see its fiscal 2017 budget of $290 million slashed to a mere $20 million under the Trump spending plan, a 93-percent decrease. This is despite a recent assessment from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine that says ARPA-E is doing its job, and doing it well, through the generation of key studies, patents, projects and even three dozen new companies over the past six years.
The recurring message being sent by clean energy supporters is that Congress must reject the proposed cuts, which would jeopardize America’s position as a global leader in cutting-edge, clean energy technology research, and which would harm this nation’s competitiveness in a rapidly growing industry that presents a multi-trillion-dollar business opportunity.
Seven former EERE directors, who served in both Democratic and Republican administrations, have said the damage would extend far beyond the clean energy arena. In a letter they sent to congressional leaders, the former DOE officials said the budget cuts would not only hurt the department’s standing as “the single largest funder of clean energy innovation in the United States.” The cuts would also hinder the U.S. position “in the global energy market,” leaving the nation “without a strategic and well-funded DOE research portfolio, including basic science, energy efficiency, renewable energy, nuclear energy, fossil energy and electricity reliability.”
Similar warnings were issued in a letter to lead congressional appropriators from former Republican officials, oil executives and business leaders, who argued that the proposed energy program cuts would have a shattering effect on national security and the economy. Joining in signing the letter were leaders from the fossil fuel, nuclear and low-carbon industries, including the chief executives at Southern Co., Exelon Corp., Shell Oil Co., PG&E, the American Gas Association and Clean Line Energy Partners, as well as the CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
So, the consensus is clear: Stakeholders across the nation’s energy spectrum recognize attempts to slash DOE programs and initiatives that promote innovation will cede U.S. dominance in the global energy market to China, India, Japan, the EU and other nations that are currently on track to double their government research budgets. U.S. lawmakers must move beyond political and ideological motives, sustain research spending and meet the energy security and economic commitments incumbent upon a great nation.