Trump wants to gut clean energy spending — budget documents

Source: Jeremy Dillon, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Trump administration is proposing to cancel some $287 million in current unobligated balances at the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy to close out the program by 2022, according to additional fiscal 2020 budget request documents released today.

That amount would represent 78 percent of ARPA-E’s $366 million appropriated by Congress in fiscal 2019. The fiscal 2020 request includes no new funding for the program.

The proposed spending cut is one of a few budget line items the Trump administration has looked to hide the severity of for the upcoming fiscal year by using prior-year funds to ease the dramatic reduction in clean energy research and development spending.

The effect of the proposals could mean cuts not only for fiscal 2020 but for current-year spending as well.

But according to the Office of Management and Budget, ARPA-E — which funds high-risk but potentially transformational projects deemed too costly for private-sector investment — offers similar objectives to other DOE research programs and may cause “duplication.”

“It makes little strategic sense that ARPA-E still exists independent of DOE’s main applied research programs, especially when the research they fund is similar,” the White House said in its “Major Savings and Reforms” justification document.

“This proposed elimination promotes more effective and efficient use of taxpayer funds, reduces duplication within DOE and positions DOE to incorporate elements of ARPA-E into the existing Applied Energy Offices to support a more integrated energy Research and Development (R&D) strategy,” the document adds.

The proposal would reduce full-time employment at ARPA-E from 60 to 45 in fiscal 2020, with an eye toward shuttering the program by 2022.

The Trump administration has proposed axing ARPA-E in the past three budget requests. Congress has rebuked those attempts, providing record funding for the program for the current fiscal year in response.

And with increased talk of action on climate change by both parties on Capitol Hill, ARPA-E may be in line for a dramatic increase in funding next year. Some House Democrats suggested it could see funding in the $1 billion range (E&E Daily, March 11).

EERE details

That climate focus may also carry over to DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, though the Trump administration has proposed severe cuts for the R&D activities in that office.

In total, the White House suggested EERE’s fiscal 2020 budget allocate $696 million to clean energy research. That money would include $353 million from unobligated balances at DOE that would appear to undercut some of the $2.3 billion allocated for the program in fiscal 2019.

The proposal would also come with a 26 percent reduction in full-time employees, bringing EERE’s workforce to 461 employees.

The budget details released today outlined how those cuts would play out, including:

  • Sustainable transportation would be funded at $157 million, a reduction of $533 million or 77.2 percent from fiscal 2019.
  • Solar energy at $67 million, a reduction of $180 million or 72.8 percent.
  • Wind energy at $24 million, a reduction of $68 million or 74.2 percent.
  • Energy efficiency at $146 million, a reduction of $742 million or 83.6 percent.

The proposal would also call for the elimination of the Weatherization Assistance Program, which received $254 million in current spending.

DOE argued the shift in EERE focus will gear to “research activities, which industry does not have the technical capability to undertake, or which are too far from market realization to merit sufficient industry focus and critical mass.”

Carbon capture research slashed

DOE’s proposal would also look to overhaul how the Office of Fossil Energy approaches carbon capture and storage R&D.

As the current framework exists, carbon capture research is divided across two programs: one for capture research and the other for storage research. The two programs received funding of $101 million and $98 million, respectively, in fiscal 2019.

For fiscal 2020, DOE suggested combining the two programs into one carbon capture, utilization and storage program, funded at $69 million.

“This restructure improves the alignment of the budget structure to the research focus areas, repositioning the department to more effectively enable industry to commercialize and deploy advanced technologies necessary to support a secure and reliable power grid,” DOE said in its “Budget in Brief” document.

In total, the Office of Fossil Energy would see $562 million under the administration’s request, a reduction of $178 million or 24 percent from fiscal 2019.