Trump plans a 69 percent budget cut, large staff reductions at clean energy office

Source: By Chris Mooney, Washington Post • Posted: Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Part of the rooftop photovoltaic array is seen on the roof of the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory Research Support Facility (RFS) in Golden, Colo. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

New budget documents released by the Trump administration Tuesday confirmed fears of an extremely deep cut aimed at the government’s leading clean energy research office, triggering criticism from the former secretary of energy under President Barack Obama, Ernest Moniz.

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would see just $636 million in new funding in 2018 under the proposal, compared with a budget allocation of $ 2.069 billion in 2017, a decline of more than 69 percent, according to the documents. It would also cut staffing expenditures from 634 full-time employee equivalents down to an estimated 458, an almost 28 percent reduction.

“The United States played an indispensable role in creating the Mission Innovation initiative, where 22 nations and the EU have agreed to double governmental investments in clean energy R&D over a five-year period,” Moniz said in a statementposted on Twitter. “This administration budget proposal would put us behind China and Europe, blunting our competitive edge in a multi-trillion dollar developing clean energy global market.”

His was just one of many statements by clean energy advocates, denouncing the cuts.

The Energy Department released a statement from Secretary Rick Perry saying that the budget “delivers on the promise to reprioritize spending in order to carry out DOE’s core functions efficiently and effectively while also being fiscally responsible and respectful to the American taxpayer.”

When it comes to the renewable energy office, the Department explained that the changes marked a “shift away from later-stage development and deployment activities and the increased focus on early-stage R&D” — a realignment that some energy policy scholars have criticized, arguing that in the energy sphere, it’s also critical to invest in later stage projects in order to aid their commercial realization.

Funding to solar energy programs would decline to $69.7 million from $241 million just a year earlier, or over 71 percent, under the proposal. Wind energy research would decline to $31.7 million from $95.27 million, a 67 percent cut.

It is far from clear that these deep cuts would actually be approved by Congress — in a recent 2017 budget resolution, it kept spending more or less flat for these programs rather than agreeing to cuts proposed by the administration.

The administration is also proposing almost no funding to the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, a research program designed to pursue energy breakthroughs — appropriating just $20 million instead of the $290 million that Congress provided in 2017. That’s a 93 percent reduction.

Perhaps most surprising of all, the budget outlines harsh cuts to research on so-called “clean coal,” even though this is a professed Trump administration priority.

It would reduce the budget of the Energy Department’s Fossil Energy Research and Development Program down to $280 million from $631 million in 2017, a 56 percent cut. Within that, funding for research on carbon capture and carbon storage, which could allow for the burning of coal without such a heavy burden of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, would shrink to just $31 million from $206.6 million in the prior year, or a dramatic cut of 85 percent.

Another administration priority, nuclear energy, would also see research cuts, though not as sharp. Funding would decline to $703 million from $984 million a year earlier, or more than 28 percent.