Murkowski on DOE renewable energy cuts: ‘Brrrrrrrr!’

Source: Christa Marshall and Geof Koss, E&E News reporters • Posted: Thursday, February 8, 2018

Top Republican appropriators pooh-poohed reports yesterday that the Trump administration is likely to request steeper cuts for renewable energy and energy efficiency than last year.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn,), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over energy and water, said that “while we respect any president’s budget, Congress decides what to do about appropriations.”

The comments echo Alexander’s remarks from 2017, when the Trump administration proposed cutting the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy by more than half and eliminating the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. At the time, Alexander called the Trump budget “especially bad.”

Similarly, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said yesterday, “We didn’t like that,” about the possibility of 72 percent cuts at EERE.

A leaked document from DOE last week showed a plan to slash EERE, along with proposed eliminations of state energy grants and the weatherization program (Greenwire, Feb. 1). It’s uncertain if the numbers are in flux.

Murkowski said, “Brrrrrrrr!” when asked for her reaction to eliminating the DOE weatherization money, which currently is funded at $225 million annually. She signed onto a letter last week urging continued support for the program, which sustains efficiency improvements for low-income families.

Murkowski added that she expects Energy Secretary Rick Perry to testify before her committee, although there is not a set date yet. Murkowski also sits on the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee.

In the House, the chairman of the same panel, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), said “no” about whether proposed EERE cuts would fly. He then changed that to: “I don’t know; we’ll look at it. We take the recommendations and look at why they are proposing certain things, then we ultimately make the decision.”

Simpson added, “I’m obviously a fan of the Department of Nuclear Energy, so we’ll see.”

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) also said yesterday, “Congress controls the power of the purse, and I will continue to advocate for NREL [the National Renewable Energy Laboratory],” when asked about possible DOE budget cuts. NREL, in Gardner’s home state, receives the majority of its funding from EERE.

Congress typically swats aside presidential budgets, but they do set a baseline for negotiations. The administration is expected to release its fiscal 2019 plan Monday.

Lawmakers are still working on fiscal 2018 spending bills, but proposals largely ignore White House cut requests. Lawmakers are trying to negotiate an agreement on spending caps before cobbling together an omnibus appropriations package.

Reporter George Cahlink contributed.