In 2019, the United States Congress approved $823 million in funding to the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). $823 million represents over ⅓ of the EERE’s total budget. The EERE office, under supervision of the Trump administration has still not spent that money. That budget is designated for the funding of grants and other projects that support the research and development of electric vehicles, renewable energy sources, and energy efficiency improving technology. Not only has this budget not yet been spent, but the EERE has also already canceled a $46 million program created to fund solar research and development.
Some Republican committee members, such as Representative Ralph Norman of South Carolina say that it is “business as usual” to have such funds unspent and carry over into the next year (Noor). This response has left many committee members on the other side of the isle frustrated, because it is not typical for such a large amount, 1/3 of an office’s budget, to be withheld as “carryover.” And because of this, many assume that the withholding of these funds is a politically motivated strategy to undermine the effectiveness of the EERE office, which saw successful expansion under the Obama administration.
It should be noted that the Trump administration has aimed to cut the EERE’s budget since it came into office. Last year, the administration’s budget proposal attempted to cut funding to the EERE office by 86%. However, Congress largely ignored the request and actually increased the office’s budget.
Despite the misgivings of many Democrats on the committee, the EERE’s Assistant Secretary Daniel Simmons says, the department “fully intends to utilize its appropriated research funding,” and in a manner “consistent with both congressional guidance and administration priorities” (Natter; Noor). Again, it should be noted that Assistant Secretary Simmons, who was appointed by Trump to his role in 2017, has been an outspoken critic of renewable energy research and implementation. The Trump administration to date, has rolled back clean energy legislation, allowing coal plants to stay open longer, removed emission standards for power plants, as well as rolled back many auto emissions standards.
Many believe the nonspending of funds appropriated to the EERE office is simply a political scheme to undermine the effectiveness of a program which grew under the Obama administration and has been largely successful. The EERE office has financed research into electric vehicles, ocean-generated energy technologies, as well as reducing the costs of LED lighting and finding ways to make the cost of wind power competitive with coal. Many Democrats share the sentiment of Representative Bill Foster of Illinois, when he says “When Congress passes a budget, we expect that budget to be followed,” and “it’s unclear to many of us if there has been a completely good-faith effort” (Natter).
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has described the withholding as “ideologically driven efforts that thwart action to combat climate change” (Natter). Arjun Krishnaswami, analyst with the NRDC’s Climate and Clean Energy Program, says “The agency is flouting congressional intent” (Natter). Krishnaswami explains that “The magnitude of carryover funds is an indication of whether DOE is following congressional guidance and spending appropriated funds in a timely manner.” And, “more carryover funds mean less money from prior years is getting to clean energy innovators to do their work” (Noor). Just as the hearing to address these withholdings (which Krishnaswami gave his testimony at) began, the Department of Energy announced the funding of $126 million for solar technologies. Assistant Secretary Simmons pointed to this timely announcement, and stated that, “This has been a very good faith effort,” and “We are trying to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars” (Noor).
- The Natural Resources Defense Council: https://www.nrdc.org/
- Earther, by Gizmodo: https://earther.gizmodo.com/
- House Committee on Science, Space and Technology; Environment Subcommittee: https://science.house.gov/subcommittees/environment-116th-congress
Natter, Ari. “Trump Withholding $823 Million for Clean Energy, Democrats Say.” Bloomberg Green, Bloomberg.com, 5 Feb. 2020, www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-02-05/trump-withholding-823-million-for-clean-energy-democrats-say.
Noor, Dharna. “The Trump Administration Is Withholding Almost $1 Billion in Renewable Energy Funding.” Earther, Gizmodo.com, 5 Feb. 2020, www.earther.gizmodo.com/the-trump-administration-is-withholding-almost-1-billi-1841475959.