Trump’s Sledgehammer to Clean Energy Budgets Hurt Americans

The Trump Administration rolled out its skinny federal budget today. As feared, the Department of Energy’s budget reflects the overall budget direction of moving taxpayer dollars from beneficial and important civilian energy programs to military spending, which would be disastrous for the many Americans struggling  to pay their energy bills, for the fast-growing clean energy job sector, and for America's global competitiveness.

Instead of making America great, the Trump administration’s steep cuts will gut programs that have a strong record of growing jobs, supporting U.S. clean energy businesses, and saving American families billions of dollars in lower energy bills.

In the case of the Department of Energy (DOE), it proposes to increase nuclear weapons spending by 11 percent while severely cutting clean energy and energy research and development programs. These include eliminating Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), Title 17 Innovation Technology Loan Guarantee Program, Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program (ATVM), Weatherization Assistance Program and State Energy Program. But it’s not about which programs got cut or by how much. This proposal limits and eliminates critical funding for programs and offices which puts at risk the 3 million clean energy jobs, services to American businesses and families especially low-income families that are least able to pay, and our nation’s competitiveness in smart, clean and innovative energy technology solutions.

One effective cost-saver on the chopping block is the DOE’s weatherization assistance program, which has improved the lives of 7 million low-income families since 1979 by sealing up and insulating drafty, uncomfortable homes—and reducing high energy bills. The program creates local jobs too, in places like northeastern Pennsylvania, where a local technical college created a weatherization training program to help fill the need for skilled workers. In a typical year, this program supports 8,500 jobs and delivers $340 million in energy savings. The 40-year-old program provides grants to states, territories, and some Indian tribes to improve the efficiency of the homes of low-income families. It’s not merely a cost-saver but a life-changer for those households.  

Numerous energy efficiency programs run by the DOE protect consumers and struggling families from high energy bills. DOE clean energy programs have helped put solar panels on homes and baseball stadiums, opened the first offshore wind farm in the United States, brought light bulbs out of the Edison age and into the LED future, and have a hand in creating the nearly 3 million jobs for technicians, installers, factory workers, engineers, small businesses and others that are currently building our booming clean energy economy. If the administration wants to help American manufacturing, create jobs and help families save money, it needs to retain vital DOE programs that have a track record of doing just that.

The biggest consumer savings program you’ve never heard of is one of dozens of DOE initiatives at risk of deep cuts under President Trump’s extreme new budget proposal. Funding for DOE’s hugely successful appliance energy efficiency program, which will save Americans a cumulative $1 trillion by 2020 and an astounding $2 trillion by 2030, would be crippled, as would vital clean energy initiatives that have been a driving force behind groundbreaking clean energy technologies and millions of clean energy jobs.

The appliance efficiency program, for example, saves a typical household about $500 per year off their energy bills as a result of energy efficiency standards for refrigerators, washing machines, HVAC systems and other equipment. In 2015 alone, consumers saved $63 billion on their utility bills thanks to these standards. If the administration wants to trim waste, it shouldn’t gut programs that are…designed to trim waste. Further the popular and trusted Energy Star brand, which is primarily operated out of EPA, would be dismantled. This is a program that year after year continues to deliver amazing results with savings that outweigh the program cost by more than 500 to 1.

Making larger buildings more efficient saves money, water and energy and reduces pollution for communities on a larger scale, too, and the DOE’s Better Building Challenge helps drive these changes in communities across the country. The challenge with 310 current partners covering 4.2 billion sq ft. has spurred projects like a hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, to make energy efficiency improvements that are saving more than half a million dollars every year while making patients more comfortable. In McKeesport, Pennsylvania, a local nonprofit partnered with the DOE to convert a historic former YMCA building into energy-efficient, affordable housing for people at risk of homelessness. Through partnerships like these, federal programs have a lasting impact on local communities and free up local taxpayer money for other needs—like running snow plows after a blizzard.

Other DOE initiatives ensure that the United States remains at the forefront of the energy industry, supporting the development and deployment of the latest technologies, bringing down costs and improving reliability. The DOE’s ambitious SunShot initiative, for example, has succeeded in cutting the cost of solar energy in half since its inception in 2011. It helped set up new factories in Georgia, New York, and Michigan instead of in other countries. SunShot has put the United States on track to get 14 percent of its electricity from solar power in 2030 and 27 percent by 2050—a shift we urgently need to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Proposed to be zeroed out alongside ARPA-E and ATVM is the DOE’s Loan Guarantee program which plays a critical role in bringing promising technologies out of the lab and into the real world, bridging a funding gap that entrepreneurs call “the valley of death.” The program has helped fund and drive private investment into new solar power plants, energy storage and transmission projects, and other efforts to improve the grid. Revenues from interest on the loan repayments have already hit almost $1.8 billion, with expectations to grow to $5 billion by the end of current loans. This is a thriving, revenue-generating program that has helped create tens of thousands of jobs and enough clean power to support millions of U.S. households.

And while it is worth noting that the nuclear clean-up programs that DOE runs get a slight bump up, including $120 million for restarting Yucca Mountain, this is merely a drop in the bucket in terms of addressing the nuclear waste problem and throws money away on a failed project when we need to address the urgent problem of nuclear waste with a consent-based, science-based approach.

The successful clean energy and energy efficiency programs at DOE, many operated under the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), are all at risk to deep cuts in the Trump administration budget. The EERE programs alone boast a 20 percent annual return on investment—a figure that would make even a real estate tycoon envious.

It’s hard to argue that eliminating these programs, which create domestic jobs, protect consumers from high energy bills, help provide more affordable housing, save money for state and local governments, and help bring technological breakthroughs into the daily lives of all Americans—is really going to make America great again. These DOE initiatives have a track record of success and promise to keep America moving forward. Slashing clean energy budgets at the DOE in accordance with ideology rather than fact puts America’s progress toward a better future at risk.  

About the Authors

Elizabeth Noll

Legislative Director, Energy & Transportation program

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