Trump just proposed ending all federal clean energy development

He’d end all research on solar, wind, efficiency, batteries, clean cars, and climate science, too.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

In the last week, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has repeatedly vowed to zero out all federal spending on clean energy research and development. And the plan he released would also zero out all other spending on anything to do with climate change, including the government’s entire climate science effort.

You may have missed this bombshell because team Trump did not spell out these cuts overtly. In a campaign where the media has “utterly failed to convey the policy stakes in the election,” as Vox’s Matt Yglesias explained recently, it appears only Bloomberg BNA bothered to follow up with the campaign to get at the truth of Trump’s radical proposal.

Polling guru Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com fame gives Trump a one in three chance of becoming president. So I agree with Yglesias that we ought to seriously look at the implications of Trump’s proposals — especially since if Trump wins, he’s all but certain to have a GOP-controlled Congress to back him.

Trump’s newest energy plan

In announcing his “New Deal For Black America” on October 26, Trump promised:

“I will also cancel all wasteful climate change spending from Obama-Clinton, including all global warming payments to the United Nations. These steps will save $100 billion over 8 years, and this money will be used to help rebuild the vital infrastructure, including water systems, in America’s inner cities.”

I’ll bet you never even knew the U.S. budgets $12.5 billion a year ($100 billion over eight years) on climate change, let alone wastefully.

Fortunately for us, BNA Bloomberg queried the campaign on where that $100 billion figure came from. You will not be shocked to learn the “Trump campaign did not give a specific tally to account for the $100 billion total in response.” And the news release announcing his New Deal contains no specifics.

But Bloomberg does have a money quote, so to speak:

“The e-mail said the estimate was based on a Congressional Research Service report in 2013 that looked at federal climate change funding from fiscal year 2008 to the administration’s budget request for FY 2014.”

And here is the money chart from the 2013 CRS report, “Federal Climate Change Funding from FY2008 to FY2014”:

The prominent bar between 2008 and 2009 is the The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA aka The Stimulus). Note: Any resemblance between this chart and a gesture that sums up how you feel about the election is purely coincidental.
The prominent bar between 2008 and 2009 is the The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA aka The Stimulus). Note: Any resemblance between this chart and a gesture that sums up how you feel about the election is purely coincidental.

What leaps off the screen is that the overwhelming majority of the money that was spent during the Obama years on “climate change” was in fact spent on clean energy technologies from solar energy to advanced batteries. In fact, CRS concluded, “more than 75 percent” of that total spending “funded technology development and deployment, mostly through the Department of Energy (DOE).”

If Trump isn’t planning to zero out federal funding for clean technology development and deployment, then there is no possible way of coming anywhere close to $100 billion dollars over eight years or $12.5 billion a year.

If we take the 2014 “climate” budget request of $11.7 billion as the baseline going forward to determine possible budget savings in a Trump administration, then team Trump would have to eliminate everything in it just to save $93.6 billion over eight years.

If Trump left clean energy alone, he’d only save $29.3 billion over eight years. Of course, that would still mean zeroing out essentially the entire U.S. climate science effort. But then who needs to research a hoax “created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” as Trump once tweeted about global warming?

Bloomberg notes, “Trump has said he would also cancel commitments for an international fund to help poor nations reduce carbon pollution and adapt to climate impacts.”

But the savings here are paltry. Beyond the meager multi-agency funding for “International Climate Change Assistance” already counted in the chart above, the only other big potential line item is for the U.N. Green Climate Fund (GCF). Obama has pledged $3 billion over four years to that fund — and paid $500 million into it in March.

But compared to $100 billion over eight years, those GCF funds are chump change (Trump change?). It’s true that in Paris last December, the rich countries agreed to create a $100 billion a year fund (using public and private money) to help the poor countries deal with climate change. But none of that is in the federal budget yet, so if Trump refuses to join in, he won’t be freeing up any money to spend on his “New Deal For Black America.”

In reality, the only way Trump can keep this promise is to zero out all clean energy research and development (along with all climate science and support for international efforts), which would shut the door on the below-2°C path just as the rest of the world was working together to pry that door open.

You may consider it unlikely Trump would follow through, but I was at the U.S. Department of Energy working on clean energy when the GOP took back the House in 1995, led by Newt Gingrich. The House GOP had pledged to zero out all clean energy development and deployment programs — and they succeeded in slashing the budget for all the deployment programs.

The only thing that stopped them from gutting clean energy research and development was a huge push-back by the administration of President Clinton. The more things change, the more they remain the same.