Energy in America is in a dichotomous state, split between those who seek to revive coal and roll back environmental protections, and those that seek to invest in clean energy and restore said regulations.
A microcosm of this battle played out over the last 24 hours. Just after nine states formally announced a major push to get carbon pricing introduced to the US, it was revealed that the White House wants to cut clean energy and energy efficiency programs at the Department of Energy (DOE) by 72 percent in the fiscal year 2019, according to draft budget documents obtained by The Washington Post.
The DOE was already reportedly seeking cuts, but they were rather more modest compared to the demands set by the executive branch.
Back in 2017, the White House asked for cuts amounting to just over two-thirds in this regard, which were denied by Congress. Clearly, they’ve doubled-down on their efforts to nix clean energy research this year. Fortunately, as before, Congress is unlikely to pass such a draconian measure.
In general, the White House’s budget requests have constantly asked for deep spending reductions in science and environmental research programs, but they’ve largely been rebuffed by a Republican-dominated House. In some cases, scientific research has seen modest spending increases, although as of 2017, this extra funding was channeled toward defense and health programs.
Axios have also reported on the DOE clean energy budget cut requests, although they’ve settled on a figure of 70 percent. Either way, despite its steep odds, this still spells trouble: As their report notes, this request sets a low negotiating bar for Congress, and the lower it starts, the lower the final figure is likely to be.
Is anyone really surprised? Although there have been vague references to an “all of the above” energy strategy when it comes to the US, the Trump administration – and plenty of Congressional members living in fossil fuel-heavy states – have invariably chastised clean energy and vociferously supported coal power.
For some time now, the tendrils of the coal industry have been infiltrating the executive and legislative branches, buying influence with sizeable donations. Whether it’s casting doubt on the science of climate change, or it’s simply vociferously supporting coal – even that fictional “clean” variant the President seems to like so much – its influence can be seen in the leaked DOE budget drafts.
It’s hard to argue that this isn’t regressive behavior. Forget the rest of the world, which is transitioning to low-carbon economies at various speeds and ending its use of coal: in the US, solar power and natural gas are almost always the cheapest sources of electricity, and it’s almost certain that – based on the economics alone – the near future will see both proliferate at a breakneck pace.
At the same time, in 2017, more coal mining jobs were lost than gained, despite the Trump administration’s promise to bring coal jobs back. Its delegates can attend international climate summits and boast about coal production all they like, but there’s no fighting reality.
All in all, the budget requests seen by the Post and Axios, if implemented, would deal another blow to both the booming clean energy sector and efforts to mitigate climate change. The White House is acting as if clean energy is the elephant in the room, when in reality, it’s the key to this “energy dominance” they often tout.
It may also be the key to electoral dominance in some cases. As noted by Reuters, eight of the 10 fastest-growing US solar markets between 2016 and 2017 were in states that voted for Trump.