Documents obtained by The Washington Post show the Trump administration is prepared to ask Congress to cut the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) renewable energy and energy efficiency programs by as much as 72% in fiscal year 2019.
The newspaper in a January 31 report says Congress likely would not support many of the cuts, but says the documents are “a statement of intent and policy priorities” from the president that highlight the administration’s support of fossil fuels.
President Trump in his State of the Union address on January 30 talked about “beautiful, clean coal” as part of his remarks on energy policy. “We have ended the war on American energy, and we have ended the war on beautiful, clean coal,” he said. “We are now very proudly an exporter of energy to the world.”
The president’s budget proposal is due out in February.
The newspaper said the DOE asked the White House to consider smaller reductions for the renewable and efficiency programs. The newspaper’s sources, who the Post said asked for anonymity, told the paper the Office of Management and Budget “insisted on deeper cuts.”
The administration asked for cuts in both programs for the current fiscal year, but the budget impasse in Congress stalled those discussions. The government, which briefly shut down in January due to the failure to pass a budget, has operated on a series of continuing resolutions; the current measure expires February 8.
The DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) has a budget of $2.04 billion for the current fiscal year, which ends October 1. The Trump administration asked for a budget of $636.1 million last year, a nearly 70% reduction, but Congress balked. The new draft proposal calls for a request of an even-lower $575.5 million. It also calls for staff cuts, from 680 in the current budget (enacted in 2017), to 450 in 2019.
The DOE did not immediately respond to requests for comment from POWER. The White House issued a statement that said: “We don’t comment on any leaked or pre-decisional documents prior to the release of the official budget.”
The Post reported that a source said the budget request was lowered after negotiations with the OMB. It also said the source commented that the budget could be designed to move more money toward funding nuclear energy, at the request of Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
The EERE, which supports the SunShot program for solar energy, does most of its research at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. The laboratory’s 2017 budget of $293 million mostly came from EERE. NREL spokeswoman Heather Lammers told POWER the lab would not comment on today’s report ahead of the official budget release.
The solar industry is still reeling from the administration’s recent move to place tariffs on imports of solar power equipment, which the industry says will cost jobs, increase the cost of U.S. solar energy projects, and slow the growth of the U.S. solar industry.
The draft document obtained by the Post also says the administration will again ask Congress to eliminate the weatherization program, which has helped U.S. homeowners lower utility bills by making their homes more energy efficient. The program also trains workers. The document also says federal government grants to states for energy programs would be eliminated.
Other cuts to funding would include research for fuel-efficient vehicles, bioenergy, solar energy, electric vehicles, and geothermal, hydro, and wind power.
The cuts to the renewable and energy efficiency programs represent about 7% of the DOE’s total budget. Most DOE funds go to clean up nuclear waste sites across the U.S., and to maintain the country’s stockpile of nuclear weapons.
—Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine)