Trump Seeks to Gut U.S. Renewables, Efficiency Budget After $190-Billion Gift to Fossils
The Trump Administration will soon ask the U.S. Congress for a 72% cut in clean energy research for 2019, hard on the heels of a tax cut that delivered US$190 billion in added value to fossil companies and a State of the Union address last week that glorified coal while ignoring the climate crisis.
“Many of the sharp cuts would probably be restored by Congress,” the Washington Post reports. But the initial draft, obtained by Post reporters, “will mark a starting point for negotiations and offer a statement of intent and policy priorities.”
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The draft cuts funding to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy from $2.04 billion this year to $575.5 million next. For the 2018 budget year, Congress denied an administration request to slash EERE’s budget to $636.1 million. “The funding requests for next year represent a double whammy for renewable energy after the administration…imposed tariffs on imported solar panels,” the Post notes.
“The document underscores the administration’s continued focus on the exploitation of fossil fuel resources—or, as Trump put it in his State of the Union address, ‘beautiful clean coal’—over newer renewable technologies seen as a central solution to the problem of climate change,” write reporters Chris Mooney and Steven Mufson. “The Energy Department had asked the White House for more modest spending reductions to the renewable and efficiency programs, but people familiar with the process, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share unfinished budget information, said the Office of Management and Budget had insisted on the deeper cuts.”
“It shows that we’ve made no inroads in terms of convincing the administration of our value, and if anything, our value based on these numbers has dropped,” an unnamed EERE employee told the Post.
Meanwhile, citing a study by fossil consultants Wood Mackenzie, Bloomberg reports that the tax overhaul package adopted by Congress last month will deliver a $190.4-billion increase in asset value to U.S. oil, gas, and coal companies. The calculation reflects “the combination of a lower corporate tax rate, reduced pass-through rates for partnerships, and accelerated expensing of capital costs,” adding up to a 19% increase in asset value after taxes, the U.S. news agency states.
“While we may not see much increase in more marginal assets, the increased profitability of valuable proven onshore and deepwater plays will likely drive more international capital towards the U.S.,” Wood Mackenzie stated.
ExxonMobil generated some excitement in the industry last week, as well, with CEO Darren Woods promising to spend $50 billion in the Permian Basin in West Texas and in New Mexico over the next five years. Woods cited Trump’s tax overhaul “as a significant enabler of the plan,” Bloomberg reports.
Meanwhile, Trump’s January 30 State of the Union address drew fire through the week for extolling supposedly “clean” coal while failing to acknowledge the climate change connection in the severe storms and disasters that beset the United States last year.
It was a “distinct irony” to hear Trump “open his State of the Union address by reciting the litany of climate calamities that the nation survived in 2017,” wrote John H. Cushman Jr. on InsideClimate News. While the former reality TV star acknowledged the courageous public servants who responded to the “floods, fires, and storms” the country endured, “he said not a word about the man-made global warming that makes those risks more dangerous year after year. And his only discussion of energy policies made no nod to the clean energy transformation that scientists prescribe to lower greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the risks.”
Cushman notes that Trump’s narrative “was riddled with falsehoods: that one of the richest and most powerful of American industries needed snatching from the jaws of defeat and that fossil fuels were the only kind of energy that truly mattered. He erroneously suggested that his policies rather than market forces were behind the long-running oil and gas boom, and that coal—the dirtiest of fuels, vanquished by the forces of natural gas, renewables, and efficiency—could be restored to its erstwhile throne.”
Instead, Trump highlighted a 10-year, $1.5-trillion infrastructure program that is widely expected to gut bedrock environmental regulations and download the vast majority of the costs to cash-starved cities and states.
While Cushman dissects the State of the Union, Brad Plumer on the New York Times Climate Forward takes a different approach, listing the points Trump might have made if he’d wanted to say anything useful or honest about climate change.
“We’d start with the fact that the administration has pushed to dismantle nearly all federal regulations related to climate change,” he writes. “That includes the Clean Power Plan to reduce emissions from power plants and a federal flood standard that would have required new infrastructure projects to prepare for a changing climate…And it includes a disavowal of the Paris climate agreement.”
Yet Trump “hasn’t been able to halt many of the most important trends around the country toward lower emissions,” Plumer notes. Key states are pushing ahead with their own climate policies. The coal industry is still crashing, notwithstanding Trumped-up claims to the contrary. U.S. emissions are still shrinking. And the cost of installed wind and solar is still falling fast.
“It’s fair to say that those two broad dynamics—the Trump administration’s regulatory rollbacks and the stubborn march of clean energy—have fought each other to a standstill,” Plumer notes. “The catch, as scientists have warned, is that we’ve reached the point on climate change where a holding pattern is no longer sufficient to give us a decent shot at stabilizing global temperatures this century and avoiding irreversible changes to Earth’s weather patterns, polar caps, and fragile ecosystems.
“It won’t be enough for emissions in the United States and other major economies to flatline or decline slowly in the years ahead. They need to fall sharply to nearly zero by mid-century. Even a few years of delay could make that task much harder.”