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Lawmakers Pass Spending Bill With Funds for Clean Energy

Lawmakers Pass Spending Bill With Funds for Clean Energy
The industry breathes a collective sigh of relief as lawmakers clarify the budget for a handful of programs.

Legislation outlined the Department of Energy’s $34.5 billion budget for fiscal year 2018.

UPDATE: On Friday after threatening to veto the bill, which would have caused a government shutdown, President Trump signed the bill. “There are a lot of things that I’m unhappy about in this bill,” he said. “I say to Congress, I will never sign another bill like this again. I’m not going to do it again.” 

Congress cleared a spending bill Friday for the 2018 fiscal year that allocates $1.3 trillion. Despite the Trump administration’s requests for drastic cuts, lawmakers set aside increased funds for clean energy programs. Trump tweeted Friday that he may veto the bill.

In the final text, the Department of Energy actually received a $3.77 billion boost in funding, bringing the agency’s budget to a total of $34.5 billion. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) received $2.32 billion, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) received $353 million, and the Office of Science — which houses national labs like Lawrence Berkeley — received $6.3 billion. All those budgets were increased from 2017.

The whopping 2,232-page deal adds specifics to a broad-strokes budget deal passed last month, after a brief government shutdown. It also included late additions and riders, making it a controversial sell for some legislators who said they didn’t have time to digest its contents.

But clean energy advocates felt they came out on top.

“It’s been a long time coming, but Congress got it right with this bill,” said Ben Evans, vice president of government affairs and communications at the The Alliance to Save Energy, in a statement.

Other renewables and environmental advocates applauded the legislation as a rebuke of the Trump agenda.

“This spending bill is a repudiation of President Trump’s extreme budget cuts,” said League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski in a statement. “It recognizes that we need more investments — not fewer — to protect public health, boost our outdoor recreation economy, and grow clean energy jobs.”

In applauding the deal, groups also hinted at a sore spot for the administration: competition from abroad.

“It’s clear that Congress recognizes the incredible value EERE, ARPA-E and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) bring to the research, development and deployment of many important electric power innovations,” said Gregory Wetstone, president and CEO at the American Council on Renewable Energy, in a statement. “Without support for these critical energy R&D programs, the U.S. is at risk of falling behind other countries that are investing heavily in a rapidly growing global renewable energy industry.”

Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions Managing Director Heather Reams said in a statement that the bill will “allow the U.S. to maintain its global leadership and competitive edge.”

Lawmakers apparently agreed. Many of the programs affected, such as ARPA-E, historically have received bipartisan support.

In addition to traditional energy innovation programs, the final appropriations bill also sets aside about $2 billion a year through 2027 for wildfire disaster funds and asks utilities to coordinate with government on vegetation management. The Office of Electricity Delivery and Reliability, which focuses on resilience in infrastructure, got $248 million. The Office of Nuclear Energy got $1.2 billion. The Innovative Technology Loan Guarantee program, which provides money for innovative clean energy projects, got $33 million. And the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program got $5 million.

Despite the positive news contained in this year’s appropriations, the clean energy industry is still staring down cuts in Trump’s 2019 budget proposal. Earlier this week Secretary Rick Perry defended the cuts in front of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“Just because there’s a reduction in the line item doesn’t necessarily mean there will be a reduction in results,” he told legislators.

Though drastic, the cuts for next year are unlikely to pass Congress. But advocates are bracing for a fight.

“Looking ahead, as Congress begins to set appropriations for the upcoming fiscal year, we will encourage them to once again reject proposed cuts and increase funding to energy efficiency programs so we can build on their success,” said The Alliance to Save Energy’s Evans.

 Legislation outlined the Department of Energy's $34.5 billion budget for fiscal year 2018.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Legislation outlined the Department of Energy's $34.5 billion budget for fiscal year 2018.






The President’s Own Party Still Doesn’t Back His Attempts to Dismantle Clean Energy


Many Republicans support clean energy funding that Trump has attempted to cut.

Many Republicans support clean energy funding that Trump has attempted to cut.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

After signing a bill laying out the 2018 budget Friday, the president held a press conference to publicly berate legislators about its contents.

“I say to Congress, I will never sign another bill like this again,” he said. “I’m not going to do it again.”

In addition to lacking complete funding for his border wall, the $1.3 trillion budget also avoids the drastic cuts Trump wanted in almost every area of the government.

Under Trump’s proposed 2018 budget, the Department of Energy would have seen funding cut by 6 percent, along with programs such as the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Loan Program being eliminated altogether. Instead, the bill passed last week increased the DOE budget over 2017, to $34.5 billion. Many programs, including ARPA-E, received more funding than in the previous year.

The final text serves as a rebuke from legislators of the administration’s energy agenda and an endorsement of clean energy programs that have bipartisan support. It may serve as a signal to the industry that the administration’s repeated attempts to cut down energy advancement won’t be tolerated.

Gregory Wetstone, in a statement from the American Council on Renewable Energy, said, “It’s clear that Congress recognizes the incredible value” of clean energy.

Environmental Entrepreneurs noted the bipartisan backing exhibited in the budget legislation.

“Together, Republicans and Democrats voted to support American innovation in energy and vehicle technologies,” said advocacy director Grant Carlisle in a statement.

While negotiations around the tax reform bill — particularly in the House — initially threatened credits for renewable energy, lawmakers ultimately passed legislation that protected the federal Investment Tax Credit and Production Tax Credit. In the February budget bill that sketched out spending limits, debates about whether to include credits for “orphan” technologies ended with legislators including credits for technologies such as carbon capture, nuclear projects and fuel cells.

Republican support for clean energy shows the president’s party doesn’t stand behind him on the issue.

In a January op-ed, Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa who has questioned whether climate change is the result of human activity, promised to continue fighting for clean energy. Grassley was among those who argued against assaults on clean energy in the tax reform bill.

“I’ve long advocated for an all-of-the-above American energy policy and will continuing defending renewable fuels,” he wrote.

Senator Dean Heller from Nevada, who has also questioned humanity’s role in fomenting climate change, came to the defense of clean energy credits. His website announces that he wants to work to “develop renewable resources efficiently and affordably.” In February he won an award from the Solar Energy Industries Association for his support of clean energy.

Those positions are no longer outliers in the Grand Old Party. Though Republican support for clean energy has grown largely due to promises of economic development and job creation rather than from an ideological commitment to the issue, many of the country’s most productive clean energy states are also conservative. The budget bill is just the latest indication that framing the clean energy debate as strictly blue versus red constitutes a lack of up-to-date context.

But Democrats say there’s more work to be done — and the politics of the clean energy landscape certainly remain nuanced.

In March, Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell criticized her Republican House colleagues for “holding back the American economy” by not offering support for clean energy in their tax legislation draft. She added that the debate over alternative energy tax credit extensions created “bipartisan anger” in the Senate.

As that bipartisan support continues to coalesce, another test is approaching. The administration released its 2019 budget proposal last month. While it suggested a slight increase in Department of Energy funding (which would be less than the department actually received under this new bill), ARPA-E is again slated for elimination.

But if 2018 serves as any indication, the cuts won’t be tolerated.

 Source: GreenTech Media

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