June 19th, 2019 Update:
The Energy and Water appropriations bill was approved by the House today as part of a package of spending legislation (H.R. 2740) with no significant changes to the provisions discussed in this blog. The House has done well to propose historic investment in DOE’s clean energy programs with enormous energy-savings and climate benefits. Now it’s up to the Senate to keep the ball moving, provide support for these crucial programs, and fund the government on time.
The House Appropriations Committee has advanced a bill to provide the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) with historic levels of investment in clean energy innovation programs that have been instrumental in accelerating deployment of technologies that will help us meet the climate crisis head-on. Now it’s up to the full House and the Senate to keep this critical momentum going.
The appropriations bill approved this week builds upon record funding levels provided by a bipartisan Congress last year in rejecting President Trump’s proposed draconian cuts to DOE clean energy programs, most of which he resurrected in his budget plan for the fiscal year beginning this October.
The House bill is a positive step toward doubling federal investment in clean energy research and development, which is a necessary part of our strategy to address climate change and has been recommended by several non-partisan, independent groups like the National Academies and the American Energy Innovation Council.
The Senate can keep things going by drafting a bill with that matches this robust clean energy funding. The proposed increases in investment can only be achieved with a budget deal, without which these crucial programs will face flat funding or even decreases. Moving forward, both chambers should ensure that DOE spends the money that’s already been appropriated, work together to raise the budget caps, and move government funding along in a timely manner.
Targeted increases to innovation programs will catalyze clean energy growth
The appropriations bill approved this week would increase DOE’s energy programs by $726 million over current Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19) levels, providing more funding for basic science research and the applied energy programs. DOE’s energy programs are a smart use of taxpayer money and have helped accelerate the clean energy revolution, resulting in enormous benefits for each dollar invested. Thanks in part to DOE programs, major clean energy technologies like wind and solar have dramatically dropped in cost over the last decade and the clean energy economy is booming with nearly 3.3 million Americans employed in clean energy industries.
In a clear rebuke to President Trump’s budget, which proposed disastrous cuts to DOE’s clean energy programs, the bill includes many provisions to increase investment in clean energy and ensure that federal money is being used to fully take advantage of opportunities for clean energy growth. Some highlights include:
- A $273 million (12 percent) increase to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), with particularly robust investment in solar energy programs and advanced manufacturing innovation;
- A $36 million increase to the Weatherization Assistance Program, which has reduced energy costs for more than 7 million low-income households across all 50 states, is one of DOE’s few programs focused on deploying clean energy solutions not just developing the technologies, and is one of DOE’s central equity-focused programs;
- A requirement for DOE to develop roadmaps to cut carbon pollution from major industrial processes that are especially difficult to decarbonize;
- Direction for DOE to continue efforts to improve manufacturing of clean energy technologies, including battery energy storage;
- An $11 million increase to the Office of Electricity, including direction for DOE to develop a crosscutting energy storage initiative that would help accelerate improvements to storage technologies;
- A $59 million increase to the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E), which provides funding for potentially transformative clean energy technologies;
- $10 million within the Office of Fossil Energy to kickstart development of direct air capture technologies, which pull carbon pollution directly from the atmosphere; and
- Sustained funding across DOE’s applied energy programs to continue advancing the full set of technology solutions to curb climate emissions and address the climate crisis.
Some improvement still needed
Unfortunately, the bill also includes funding for consolidated interim storage for nuclear waste. While the Committee made the right decision in denying funding for the unwanted and unsound Yucca Mountain nuclear repository, other communities that never benefited from nuclear power don’t want that waste, either. Congress shouldn’t try to force it on them under the guise that it’s just an “interim” solution; they will likely be stuck with it for decades. If Congress is serious about wanting to find a real solution to nuclear waste, they should come up with a plan that will ensure states have a say in the toxic waste that would reside in their borders.
While the House bill’s clean energy provisions are promising, it still has a way to go before implementation. The House must vote on the bill, the Senate committees must introduce and discuss their funding bills, and the two chambers must reconcile the differences. We urge the Senate to match the House’s smart, targeted investment in clean energy innovation and make it a priority to use federal money to advance and deploy solutions to address the climate crisis. The Senate should also avoid complicating sound clean energy investments with controversial nuclear waste provisions.
In the meantime, the Congress should do all it can to make sure that DOE is using its already appropriated funds in line with congressional direction. The Government Accountability Office found that DOE was illegally impounding ARPA-E funds in 2017 and last year, our analysis revealed that DOE was again delaying clean energy funding that Congress had appropriated to EERE and ARPA-E. Earlier this year, the president’s budget proposed to use $350 million of previously appropriated funds to pay for EERE programs in the FY20 budget. Given this administration’s track record and its repeated proposals to gut EERE and ARPA-E, we are watching closely to make sure appropriated funds are spent in a timely manner so as to not prevent crucial research dollars from getting out the door.
Representative Welch raised this issue in a hearing last week, and DOE Secretary Perry’s answer did not do much to assuage our fears. Watch Rep. Welch's question in this video.
Assistant Secretary of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Daniel Simmons recently assured a Senate committee that DOE has announced FY19 project funding opportunities. However, going from announcement to actually awarding the money can be a lengthy process. Congress must keep the pressure up to ensure DOE clean energy funding is being spent in a timely manner in the interest of all Americans.