Trump budget would gut EPA, DOE renewables office

Source: By Gavin Bade, Utility Dive • Posted: Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Dive Brief:

  • The Trump administration’s 2019 budget proposal would slash funding for the Environmental Protection Agency and renewable energy programs at the Department of Energy while boosting nuclear programs and fossil fuels, according to text of the proposal released by the White House.
  • The fiscal year 2019 budget proposal would allocate $6.14 billion for EPA, a cut of nearly $2 billion, or 24%, from current funding levels. The DOE would receive $30.6 billion, an increase from $30.1 billion in fiscal 2017, but its renewable energy office would be cut more than 65%, from a budget of roughly $2 billion to $696 million.
  • The DOE budget would also eliminate its Loans Program and the Advanced Research Projects Agency- Energy (ARPA-E), while increasing spending the Office fo Fossil Energy. Lawmakers are likely to make major changes to the budget proposal when it is submitted to Congress.

Dive Insight:

The Trump administration’s budget plan for the year ahead echoes its proposal for the year that passed — deep cuts to environmental initiatives and renewable energy research paired with increases to nuclear weapons and fossil fuel funding.

At EPA, the administration would seek to eliminate programs it says are “lower priority” or that can be performed by other agencies or states. Those programs include Climate Change Research and Partnership Programs, the Indoor Air and Radon Programs, the Marine Pollution and National Estuary Programs, the Beaches Program and the Environmental Education Program, EPA said in its budget plan.

Further savings at EPA would come from finding “operational efficiencies” and refocusing the on the agency’s “core mission” of air and water quality protection, the agency wrote.

Many of those core programs would face cuts, however, under the new budget. State and local clean air grants, for example, would be cut 33%, from $227 million to $152 million. Overall EPA employment would fall from 15,416 to 12,250, and the agency would institute fees for companies that wish to take part in the Energy Star appliance efficiency program.

“Core mission” goals account for more than 70% of the EPA budget, and each area faces cuts under the Trump proposal.

The DOE would also be reshaped. Science funding would remain constant and funding for the National Nuclear Safety Administration would rise by about 17%, but the department’s energy programs would be cut by $1.9 billion, a reduction of more than 43% from current levels.

The Department of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) would take an especially big hit, with a $1.3 billion (65%) cut. The new office would focus on early-stage technologies, “including new approaches to energy storage beyond current battery technologies.”

The Office of Nuclear Energy would also “refocus” on early-stage technologies like small modular reactors with a cut of 25% to its budget, bringing its budget to $757 million.

Other R&D efforts would also be reduced with the elimination of the popular ARPA-E agency and the DOE’s numerous loan programs that help companies bridge the gap from research to commercialization. The Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability would also be split into two new offices focusing on grid reliability and cybersecurity. Electrification funding would be reduced by almost 38%.

The federal government would also divest from assets owned by the Tennessee Valley Administration and three of the federal Power Marketing Administrations: Southwestern Power Administration, Western Area Power Administration, and Bonneville Power Administration.

Not all energy programs face cuts in the proposal. The Office of Fossil Energy would see its funding rise by nearly 20% in the budget, to focus on cutting-edge, early-stage R&D to improve the reliability and efficiency of advanced fossil-based power systems. Advanced computing and environmental management activities, particularly nuclear cleanup, would also receive funding bumps.

Many federal agencies were slated for steeper budget cuts before Congress passed a budget compromise at the end of last week. Before that law lifted non-defense spending caps, the administration was prepared to ask for a 34% reduction to the EPA budget, compared to a 23% reduction in the current plan.

It is unlikely lawmakers will pass a budget with such deep cuts to energy and environmental initiatives. Last year, the Trump administration made a similar budget request, but lawmakers from both parties saved DOE and EPA funding in a last-minute compromise in May.

This post has been updated to include more funding proposal details for EPA and DOE.