Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools

Support for DOE Clean Energy Programs Remains Strong Despite Proposed Cuts in US House

You are here: Home Publications Blog Support for DOE Clean Energy Programs Remains Strong Despite Proposed Cuts in US House

Support for DOE Clean Energy Programs Remains Strong Despite Proposed Cuts in US House

The Republican leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives is continuing its effort to reduce federal support for “clean” energy programs. However, the effort is encountering strong opposition from the Obama Administration and the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate.

The current Fiscal Year 2012 budget for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) program, which includes vehicle energy storage research, is $1,809 billion. The Obama Administration has proposed that Congress increase that amount for FY 2013 to $2,337 billion. On April 18, however, the House Appropriations Energy & Water Development Subcommittee passed a bill that would cut the EERE budget for FY 2013 to $1,450 billion.

One week later, on April 24, the Senate Appropriations Energy & Water Development Subcommittee passed a bill that would increase the EERE program to $1,980 billion. So, the House Republicans appear to be on a collision course with the Democratic White House and the Democratically-controlled Senate. Why is the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee seeking to reduce the DOE budgets?

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-New Jersey), Chairman of the Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, said on April 18, “Some of us believe it is time to pull the government back a step from such strong involvement in the private sector.”

However, there are even more strident critics of the DOE research programs generally and the EERE in particular. The Heritage Foundation, a privately funded “think tank” with close ties to the Republican Party, put it bluntly in a March 26, 2012 background paper:

“Businesses do not need public investment to improve efficiency and cut costs; they make those investments regularly with their own money. Technological advancements do often improve efficiency, but those investments should not be subsidized by the taxpayer, much less selected by Washington bureaucrats. Businesses and consumers will make these decisions, weighing preferences and considering trade-offs. Congress should eliminate the EERE.”

Nevertheless, the Obama Administration and Senate Democrats are fighting back. Immediately after the House appropriators passed its bill to cut the EERE budget, Acting Office of Management and Budget Director Jeffrey Zients said:

“These funding levels (passed by the Appropriations subcommittee) will mean deep and painful cuts in investments that America needs to succeed – in education and training, in research and development, and in clean energy and infrastructure.”

Will the EERE be eliminated? No. Even under the “worst case” budget scenario being advocated by the House Appropriations Committee, the EERE will remain in business. Below is a chart comparing the current FY 2012 budgets for DOE’s applied research and development program to the FY 2013 budgets proposed by the Obama Administration, the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Therefore, the EERE program would remain the largest among the other programs in the DOE applied energy department.

Actually, even though the EERE will most assuredly continue, there is a shift in the program management that has been underway for the past couple of years. For several years, Republicans AND Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee have expressed frustration with the EERE’s emphasis on lithium research at the expense of other chemistries. For example, four years ago, on March 11, 2008, Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-Indiana), who chaired the subcommittee when Democrats controlled the House, singled out the EERE’s emphasis on lithium development. He complained that millions of taxpayer dollars were being spent on lithium, but that “Japan continues to dominate the market.” He added, “Why spend the money if they are not going to use the research.”

The EERE, therefore, has been encouraging the energy storage industry to submit proposals for research into other chemistries, not just lithium. This is now being done by groups including the Advanced Lead-Acid Battery Consortium.

So, what will happen if the House, the Senate and President Obama are unable to agree on an appropriations bill for the Department of Energy? It would mean that Congress would have to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government running at current levels. The DOE budgets, therefore, would remain at Fiscal 2012 levels. At present, that would appear to be the most likely outcome, with EERE embracing a wider spectrum of chemistries in its energy storage research and development programs.