White House requests more funding for some programs

Source: Christa Marshall, Hannah Northey and Sam Mintz, E&E News reporters • Posted: Tuesday, February 13, 2018

In a sharp pivot, the Trump administration is asking for higher levels of funding for many Department of Energy programs than it did last year.

The White House spending proposal seeks $30.6 billion for the agency, which includes $1.5 billion from last week’s two-year budget deal that Congress reached. The overall funding level is consistent with current levels.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry in a statement said the budget request supports the agency’s push to enhance energy security and modernize the nuclear weapons stockpile while boosting funding for cybersecurity and emphasizing the role of the nation’s 17 laboratories.

“In order to fulfill the president’s long-term goal of energy dominance, we are prioritizing the acceleration of transformative early-stage research and development, relying on our world-class national labs,” Perry said. “This will advance everything from new clean energy technologies to supercomputing.”

But as was the case in last year’s request, the Trump administration is proposing steep cuts to the agency’s energy efficiency and renewables program and is calling for eliminating DOE’s loan program and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, DOE’s innovation arm. The White House also proposed splitting DOE’s electricity office in two.

ARPA-E currently is funded at more than $300 million. “ARPA-E will wind down operations in FY 2018, with the expectation that it will shut down in FY 2019, with remaining monitoring and contract closeout activities transferred elsewhere within DOE,” the budget proposal says.

To be sure, Congress may ignore the administration’s proposed cuts. The Senate, for example, approved record funding levels for ARPA-E for fiscal 2018, despite Trump’s plan. The loan office could face a tougher challenge in Congress.

Appropriations bills that moved in the House and Senate for fiscal 2018 prevented DOE from announcing new conditional commitments for the Title 17 loan program.

The proposed cuts landed with a thud among outside groups.

“From natural gas to renewables, America’s energy abundance is largely the product of federally funded research and collaboration with the private sector, and its continuation will take greater investments than are being called for in this budget,” said Brad Townsend, staff director for the American Energy Innovation Council, a group of 12 top CEOs, including Bill Gates.


Funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would fall by more than half under the White House plan from more than $2 billion currently to $696 million.

Because of the recent budget deal, the numbers are $120 million higher than what was originally planned for the office. A leaked document for EERE earlier this year suggested the funding level would be closer to $575 million (Greenwire, Feb. 1). DOE officials pushed OMB hard to increase the EERE numbers, according to sources.

The administration said the EERE cuts were intended to focus federal activities on early stage research and development and let the private sector fund “later stage R&D.”

The office oversees research on building technologies; advanced manufacturing; and wind, solar, geothermal and water power. It also has jurisdiction over DOE’s efficiency standards, which set mandatory efficiency levels for a range of appliances, and provides the majority of money for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado.

Fossil fuels, science

Fossil energy research and development would be funded at about $502 million under the White House plan. The numbers are $200 million higher than initially planned because of the budget deal.

Last week, Congress passed expanded tax credits for carbon capture and storage technologies that advocates say will help support new projects on coal, gas and industrial emitters (Greenwire, Feb. 9). CCS supporters say additional federal research is needed to continue development of promising technologies that could lower costs significantly.

The fossil office is the chief funding source for the National Energy Technology Laboratory.

At the Office of Science, which oversees the majority of the national labs, funding would stay current at existing levels of $5.4 billion. Within that request, there would be some cuts. Fusion energy sciences, for example, would fall from about $380 million in current funding to $340 million. Advanced scientific computing research would see an increase, from about $650 million to $899 million. The national labs would receive $2.1 billion.

The administration is proposing $75 million for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or ITER, a multinational project in France to demonstrate fusion at scale. Senate appropriators have pushed to kill U.S. support, while a House funding bill last year backed the initiative.


The budget request would create a new office focused on cybersecurity, energy security and emergency response, splitting off from the existing Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability. That office would focus exclusively on electricity delivery under the president’s plan.

The new office would receive $96 million, primarily for energy-sector cybersecurity research.

The Office of Electricity Delivery, though, would see significant cuts. As part of its $61 million request, the office’s transmission reliability and resilience program would be cut by more than 60 percent and its resilient distribution systems program by more than 80 percent. The request would also slash DOE energy storage research programs by nearly 75 percent.

DOE recently put forth a controversial proposal to compensate coal and nuclear plants with the argument that doing so would help boost grid resilience. The directive was unanimously blocked by the independent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Nuclear, FERC

FERC would see a slight increase in its budget under the administration’s request, up to $369.9 million.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, another independent agency, would also see a slight budget increase, up to $970.7 million, $47.7 million of which would be used to carry out licensing for the controversial Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada. The agency is requesting a decrease in employees, though, by 149 full-time equivalents.

DOE, like last year, requested $90 million for its role in the Yucca Mountain licensing. During the appropriations process last year, Congress declined to fund either agency’s request, leaving the project stalled, as it has been for years.

And DOE requested $757 million for its Office of Nuclear Energy, up from last year’s request but still $259 million below the levels enacted in fiscal 2017. DOE noted in a press release that $54 million is included for small modular reactor research and development.

The request also proposes selling transmission assets owned by power marketing administrations including the Southwestern Power Administration, Western Area Power Administration and Bonneville Power Administration.

The agency said doing so would reduce the federal government’s role in electricity transmission infrastructure ownership and make the system more efficient and mitigate risks to taxpayers.