House slashes funding for clean energy, restores funding for fossil fuel research

Republicans targeted a Massachusetts wind project and social cost of carbon.

Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), left, sponsored an amendment that restored fossil fuel research funding to its 2017 level of $668 million. CREDIT: AP Photo/Zach Gibson
Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), left, sponsored an amendment that restored fossil fuel research funding to its 2017 level of $668 million. CREDIT: AP Photo/Zach Gibson

The House of Representatives voted Thursday to approve a large spending bill for fiscal year 2018 that slashes clean energy spending and approves keeping fossil fuel research at current levels.

In a spending package known as the “minibus,” the House voted to set the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s (EERE) budget at $1.1 billion, a 45 percent cut from the office’s fiscal 2017 budget of more than $2 billion. The Trump administration requested an even bigger cut for the Department of Energy office that would have lowered its budget to $636 million, or 70 percent, below the 2017 budget.

The funding measure passed 235–192, with five Democrats voting for, five Republicans voting against, and six representatives abstaining. It still needs approval from the Senate before it passes into law — a thin possibility, given the largely partisan House vote.

Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) succeeded in getting an amendment passed that restored the government’s fossil fuel research funding to the FY17 level of $668 million. The Trump administration had sought a 55 percent cut in the DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy Research and Development.

Meanwhile, funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which helps develop and commercialize new energy technologies, was eliminated.

Several Democrats proposed amendments to keep clean energy funding at current levels by taking funds out of the budgets for fossil energy, military or nuclear weapons spending, but all of the amendments were defeated by the Republican-controlled House.

“We should invest in our future for renewable energy and energy efficiency rather than throwing more money at the past and into nuclear weapons,” Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), an author of one of the amendments, said on the House floor, Inside Climate News reported. “Fossil fuel research is a dead end for America and our economy, for the clean air we need and clean water.”

The House also approved an amendment, introduced by Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH) that prohibits Energy Department funds from supporting the Cape Wind offshore wind energy project. The future of the Cape Wind project remains uncertain due to financing and regulatory issues.

It also approved an amendment by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) “to prohibit the use of funds to prepare, propose, or promulgate any regulation or guidance related to the social cost of carbon.”

While an omnibus spending package would include all appropriations bills, H.R. 3219, named the “Making America Secure Again Appropriations Act” by Republicans, includes four appropriations bills: defense, military construction and veterans’ affairs, legislative branch, and energy and water.

The spending package also included $1.6 billion in funding to start building a border wall between the United States and Mexico that was a centerpiece of President Donald Trump’s campaign and remains one of his regular talking points as president.