President Trump Badly Losing his War on Federal Funding for Clean Energy

December 20, 2019 | 9:30 am
Gage Skidmore/Flickr
Rob Cowin
Former Contributor

President Trump is not a fan of clean energy. Some might even say that he’s declared “war” on clean energy by trying to prop up uneconomic coal, appointing pro-fossil FERC Commissioners, stalling permits for offshore wind, and his annual budget requests which gut federal clean energy investments.

In fact, for all of the false narratives and outright obstruction the president has pursued in an effort to dramatically cut or eliminate spending on clean energy, the reality is that he has failed miserably at getting his own party to toe the line on curtailing federal investment; not just this year but throughout his entire presidency.

Here are four critical clean energy accounts at the Department of Energy (DOE) that the president has targeted for deep cuts or elimination during his time in office:

  • Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) invests one third of its budget in the National Laboratories, and its applied technology offices support the research, development, and deployment of innovative renewable energy and clean transportation technologies. EERE also administers key federal programs on advanced manufacturing, buildings, and energy efficiency.    
  • Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) within EERE – offers energy efficiency improvements to low-income families in every state, reducing carbon and air pollution, supporting local jobs and saving households hundreds of dollars annually.
  • Energy Storage Program in the Office of Electricity (OE) – partners with industry, utilities, and state energy organizations to advance multiple energy storage technologies, improve performance and reduce costs. Energy storage helps increase the resiliency and reliability of the electric grid, allowing us to store and dispatch electricity more efficiently and with more control, as well as providing increased utilization of renewable energy resources like wind and solar.
  • Advanced Research Project Agency -Energy (ARPA-E) – pioneers transformational clean energy projects that represent high-risk but potentially game-changing technologies, filling a gap in private sector investment where risk is too high. ARPA-E also provides effective technology-to-market advice to best performers.

How have these programs fared through the Trump presidency?

This chart shows federal spending on four key DOE clean energy programs over the course of the Trump Administration (fy16-fy20)

The president has been trying to eliminate ARPA-E completely since taking office, and he’s proposed annual budget cuts exceeding 70% for EERE, WAP and energy storage. Consider that President Obama announced U.S. support for “Mission Innovation” back in 2015, which was essentially a pledge to double federal funding for clean energy R&D in 5 years. If you look at ARPA-E, our nation’s flagship clean energy R&D program, as a proxy we’re gonna be about half way there in 4 years under the Trump Administration. Yes we’re behind, but we are not catastrophically off course and more recently congressional republicans have adopted a pro-clean tech innovation posture.

This is not to say that the president hasn’t scored some points in his opposition to clean energy progress. The administration recently helped torpedo the inclusion of critical tax incentives for clean energy and electric vehicles in the fiscal year 2020 spending bill congress just passed. But for all his efforts, it’s heartening to see that the president has failed to get congress, two years of which has been solely controlled by his own party, to take part in his clean energy hate-fest.

Happy Holidays!