Energy Secretary Rick Perry offered a lackluster defense of President Donald Trump’s proposed budget cuts on Tuesday, with some of his spending priorities appearing to diverge from the administration’s goals for the Department of Energy.
Perry, in his testimony before the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, emphasized that electric grid reliability will be a priority of DOE under his leadership. “It’s one of the reasons that… I will ask at the appropriate time on the funding side to make sure that that part of our responsibility is appropriately funded,” he said. “If we don’t get that right, it could be devastating to our citizens.”
In its FY18 budget, though, the administration requested cuts to the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability by almost half, specifically targeting smart grid, cybersecurity, and energy storage programs. The department’s electricity delivery and energy reliability funding would be reduced to $120 million for FY18, down $86 million from the FY16 enacted funding level of $206 million.
Perry, who described himself as a big supporter of smart grid technologies, also informed the committee’s members that DOE’s grid reliability study will be available at the end of the month. One of the primary reasons why he directed his staff in April to prepare the grid study was that electric system reliability is not only about national security, it’s about the nation’s economic security, Perry said at the hearing.
When he was governor of Texas, Perry said the state became a “shining example” of both energy growth and economic growth.
In the Trump administration’s budget proposal, the DOE requested $28 billion for fiscal year 2018, a reduction of $1.6 billion from the FY16 enacted level of $29.6 billion.
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, said the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to DOE’s budget “would do grievous harm to American families by abandoning scientific innovation and ignoring the pressing threat of climate change.”
The proposed budget would terminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and cut funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) by 70 percent, from $2.1 billion to $636 million.
Since its official start in 2009, ARPA-E has provided more than $1.3 million in grants and funding to more than 475 projects across the nation. These projects have created more than 30 new U.S. companies and attracted more than $1.25 billion in new, private-sector funding.
Earlier this month, all seven former assistant secretaries of EERE, from 1989 to 2017, sent a letter to House appropriations members and Perry, warning that the EERE cuts would cripple the office’s work and undermine the nation’s competitive advantage in clean energy research and development.
The United States currently has 678,000 jobs in renewable energy, a number that could be much higher if the DOE continues investments in the sector, Lowey said. “Reducing investments in clean energy jobs [is] just another broken promise by the Trump administration,” she said.
Responding to concerns about the proposed cuts in technology research, Perry noted that even though the United States is no longer part of the Paris climate agreement, “we are still the leader in clean energy technology.”
In his opening comments, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) told Perry that he is a “strong believer in nuclear power as being one of the solutions to our vast energy needs.”
Frelinghuysen applauded the administration’s proposal to revive the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site in Nevada. “It should come as no surprise we are very supportive of the work we need to do at Yucca Mountain,” Frelinghuysen said. “We’ve made huge, billions of dollars of investments there. We need to get it open and used as a repository for the future.”
The Trump administration has proposed $120 million to work on resuming the licensing process for the Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada. DOE began pursuing a Nuclear Regulatory Commission license for the Nevada site in 2008. But under President Barack Obama, the department pulled support for the repository, explaining it was not an attractive solution for storing nuclear waste. The administration then closed out funding for the site.