Friday, July 28, 2017

U.S. House Hacks Away at Renewable Energy, Efficiency Programs

By Marianne Lavelle
Jul 27, 2017

The U.S. House of Representatives brushed aside Democrats' efforts to preserve federal funding for clean energy and energy efficiency as it voted to approve a large spending bill Thursday that would slash those programs by 45 percent while maintaining federal support for fossil energy research and development.

The GOP-led House tucked its $9 billion federal energy spending plan into its so-called "minibus" budget bill, a catch-all package to fund one-quarter of the federal government when the new fiscal year begins in October.

The bill, dubbed the "Making America Secure Again Act," is a long way from final approval. The Senate still must vote on its own bills to fund the Pentagon, the Department of Energy, and Veterans Affairs, and then Congress must reach an overall budget deal.

But the House made clear its priorities for shifting the nation's energy investments away from clean energy as it voted on more than 70 amendments. Although it didn't go as far as President Donald Trump's White House budget plan, which would have cut the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy by 68 percent, the House was in sync with the administration's plan for a dramatic retreat from spending on carbon-free technology for power and fuel.

In its biggest departure from the Trump administration's energy budget proposal, the House voted to preserve funding for fossil energy research and development at current levels. The White House had sought a 55 percent cut in the Office of Fossil Energy Research and Development.


Democrats proposed nine amendments, all swatted down by voice vote, to keep clean energy funding to current levels—by taking money out of the budgets for fossil energy, military or nuclear weapons spending.


Seven former heads of the office, both Democratic and Republican, had warned Congress in June that deep cuts to U.S. energy innovation would do "serious harm" to the nation's energy future. The office has helped drive research in solar panels, LED lighting and electric vehicle batteries, among other clean energy and energy efficiency advances.

The House went along with the Trump administration's request to eliminate the Advanced Research Programs Agency—Energy (ARPA-E), the seven-year-old incubator for high-impact, transformational energy technology, saving themselves $306 million. Senators on an energy appropriations subcommittee had called the elimination of ARPA-E a "short-sighted proposal" last week. Their energy package would increase funding for ARPA-E by 7 percent.

The House also approved numerous riders taking aim at specific clean energy programs. For example, the legislation would prohibit Energy Department funds from going to support the Cape Wind offshore wind energy project, even though that project currently is in limbo without the financing to proceed.


"You can't save money by gutting programs that save money, yet that's what the House is trying to do," said Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, a coalition of environmental and industry groups that support energy efficiency policy. Callahan said her group supports the Senate version of the bill, which would set funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at $1.9 billion—about a 7 percent cut from the current spending level.

The final shape of the 2018 budget won't be known until after the Senate passes its version of the spending bills and House and Senate leaders sit down to reach a deal.


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