6 GOP senators warn Trump not to gut funding for science, clean energy research

Republican lawmakers see great value in government spending on energy R&D programs.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), right, wants President Donald Trump to continue funding DOE energy research and development programs. CREDIT: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), right, wants President Donald Trump to continue funding DOE energy research and development programs. CREDIT: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

The Trump administration’s attacks on federal science and energy programs are grabbing the attention of a growing number of Republicans who believe government-sponsored research and development delivers important benefits to the American people.

A group of six prominent Republican senators wrote a letter to President Donald Trump on Thursday urging him to continue to invest in several Department of Energy research and development programs, including the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (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.”

Trump’s draft budget plan, or “skinny budget,” for fiscal year 2018 called for major cuts to energy research program funding. Earlier this month, the president signed an FY17 omnibus appropriations bill that included funding for these energy research programs through September 30.

The Republican senators who signed the letter to Trump — Lamar Alexander (TN), Lisa Murkowsi (AK), Susan Collins (ME), Cory Gardner (CO), Lindsey Graham (SC), and Michael Rounds (SD) — applauded Trump for signing the bill for the continued funding of these programs for the remainder of FY17.

But attention is now turning to what Trump is planning for his final FY18 budget proposal. Instead of sticking to his plans for major cuts, the senators are hoping Trump sends a final FY18 budget plan that will continue to fund these programs at current levels. “We urge you to continue to invest in the Department of Energy’s research and development programs in fiscal year 2018,” they wrote.

Trump’s draft FY18 budget eliminated all funding for ARPA-E, an agency that provides funding to high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that are too early for private-sector investment. During his run for the White House, Trump promised to target federal funding for agencies, like ARPA-E, that promote clean energy technologies.

The administration also reportedly hopes to cut the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s budget by nearly 70 percent. According to a National Academy of Sciences study, funding of the office has the highest documented rate of return to taxpayers of any federal R&D program.

Wind turbines run alongside an electrical tower at the National Wind Technology Center, run by DOE, outside Boulder, Colorado. CREDIT: AP Photo/Brennan Linsley
Wind turbines run alongside an electrical tower at the National Wind Technology Center, run by DOE, outside Boulder, Colorado. CREDIT: AP Photo/Brennan Linsley

Another prominent Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley (IA), is concerned with actions taken by the administration that could harm the growth of renewable energy. The Iowa senator contends a electric grid reliability study ordered by Energy Secretary Rick Perry will be slanted against wind energy. Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, also has attacked Trump’s plans in his FY18 draft budget to cut or eliminate programs that help low-income residents pay their heating bills.

The Trump budget would “slash and burn” key public investments in clean energy innovation and science funding, according to Fahad Siddiqui, a fellow for clean energy at Third Way, a research organization that seeks to advance “moderate policy and political ideas.”

“Dozens of start-ups developing the next big thing in energy are getting risk-tolerant funding provided by government agencies like ARPA-E or the Small Business Innovation Research program,” financing they likely would not receive from the private sector, Siddiqui wrote in response to Trump’s draft budget plan. “All of this could be wiped out.”

The Republican senators agree that government funding for energy R&D is vital for the success of cutting-edge energy technologies. “The United States cannot overcome scientific obstacles without the combined support of both the private and public sectors,” they wrote in their letter Trump. “Federally funded research is imperative to ensuring we meet our energy, science, and national security needs for generations to come.”