A House appropriations subcommittee advanced an energy and water appropriations bill this week that offers little respite from President Donald Trump’s attacks on renewable energy and clean energy technology programs.
The bill, approved by the House Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, would provide more funding than the Trump administration’s request for many Department of Energy (DOE) offices but still would slash funding for renewable and efficiency programs and completely eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).
The DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) would see its funding fall by about half under the House budget plan, from $2.1 billion to $1.1 billion. EERE’s mission is to help support the development of clean, renewable, and efficiency energy technologies and support a global clean energy economy.
In his budget proposal, Trump requested a budget of $636 million for EERE in fiscal year 2018, about $1.4 billion, or 70 percent, below the FY16 enacted level for the office.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), the subcommittee’s ranking member, said the cuts to clean energy programs represent a “very serious backtrack.” Even the cuts proposed by the House subcommittee would do “real violence” to DOE’s efficiency and renewable programs, she told E&E News.
EERE has conducted work that has produced some of the most successful federal carbon and energy reduction policies, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. The office also produces a significant return on taxpayer investment, the environmental group noted.
“Cutting these programs means Americans almost certainly will face higher energy bills, there will be fewer jobs in the booming clean energy sector, and U.S. manufacturer innovation will be threatened by inferior foreign imports,” the NRDC stated.
The DOE’s SunShot program, housed in EERE, could see cuts up to 71 percent if Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget is passed. The program was not specifically broken out in the House funding bill, but SunShot and other DOE programs have helped to reduce solar integration costs by 60 percent, according to analysts.
EERE also houses the Weatherization Assistance Program, a DOE program that reduces energy costs for low-income households by increasing the energy efficiency of their homes. In his fiscal-year 2018 budget proposal, Trump called for the elimination of the program. The future of the weatherization program remains uncertain, given the huge cuts proposed by House appropriators to EERE.
Both the Weatherization Assistance Program and Energy Star — an efficiency program housed at the EPA and co-managed by DOE and which was also was targeted for elimination by the Trump administration — enjoy bipartisan support
Republican senators are not likely to agree to severe budget cuts to these DOE programs. Last month, a group of six prominent Republican senators wrote a letter to Trump urging him to continue to invest in several DOE research and development programs, including ARPA-E and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
“We cannot lose the technological advantages we have gained through our country’s investment in research and development,” the Republican senators wrote. “Governing is about setting priorities, and the federal debt is not the result of Congress overspending on science and energy research each year.”
Under the appropriations bill, the DOE’s Office of Science, which oversees the DOE’s 10 national laboratories, would receive almost $5.5 billion, roughly the same as this year. The Trump administration had requested a $900 million cut to the office’s budget.
The House bill also would eliminate the Title XVII clean energy projects loan program, as proposed by Trump. The DOE was authorized to provide the loan guarantees, which are used to accelerate the deployment of clean energy technology, under Title XVII of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
As of December 2016, revenue from interest payments from DOE’s loan guarantee program had hit almost $1.8 billion, with expectations to grow to $5 billion by the end of the current loans, according to the NRDC. This total far exceeds the combined losses of $810 million from discontinued projects that received loans under the Title XVII program and a separate DOE loan program known as Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing.
The losses represented only about 2.23 percent of loan guarantee amounts and are substantially less than the $10 billion that Congress authorized for losses.
Overall, the House bill authorizes $37.56 billion, $209 million below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level and $3.65 billion above Trump’s budget request. Funding is targeted toward nuclear weapons activities and energy and water infrastructure investments, subcommittee Republicans said.
The subcommittee, which also handles funding for federal water programs, included language in the bill authorizing the administrator of the EPA and the Secretary of the Army to withdraw the Waters of the United States rule, also know as the Clean Water Rule, “without regard to any provision of statute or regulation that establishes a requirement for such withdrawal.”
The Trump administration has already begun repealing the Clean Water Rule, which was finalized by the Obama administration in 2015. The proposed repeal, which was published in the Federal Register on Thursday, signals the first step in the Trump administration’s promise to rescind and rewrite the regulation.
The Clean Water Rule, which was first proposed in 2014, sought to clarify the legal jurisdiction of the federal government under the Clean Water Act. In doing so, it expanded protection for two million miles of streams and 20 million acres of wetlands.
While the Obama administration provided a six-month public comment period, the Trump administration has proposed to undo the rule with only a 30-day comment period, noted Brent Bolin, Chesapeake region director and acting political director at environmental group Clean Water Action.
But even worse than the 30-day comment period is a highly unusual provision in the House bill that proposes to waive the Administrative Procedures Act as it applies to the Clean Water rule. The provision would “undo public engagement completely for the repeal of this rule,” Bolin said Thursday at a clean water event on Capitol Hill.
Once a rule has been finalized, as was the case with the Clean Water Rule under President Barack Obama, a new administration must go through a rulemaking process, as defined by the Administrative Procedures Act, to change or repeal all or part of a rule. However, the provision in the House appropriations bill would allow the Trump administration to bypass this step as it seeks to undo the Clean Water Rule.
“They could just throw it out the window without telling anybody why and without receiving comments from the public,” he said about the provision. “That’s not only terrible for the Clean Water Rule, that’s an extremely dangerous precedent for everything anyone cares about. If changes can be made without the light of day on them, then I think that is something we all need to be concerned about.”