Senate Bolsters DOE Funding

The Senate Committee on Appropriations recently released a lengthy report on the 2018 fiscal year budget for the Department of Energy that rejects the Trump Administration’s efforts to defund clean energy. In fact, the committee voted on a bipartisan basis to boost funding, rather than slash it.

The committee represents a major departure from projected policies. The Administration had called for massive cuts to the Department of Energy in its 2018 budget, specifically targeting renewable energy projects. For example, the White House sought to eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), the agency that aims to transform the best ideas from basic research into budding energy technologies.

This was immediately shut down by the Senate.  

“The Committee definitively rejects this short-sighted proposal and instead increases investment in this transformational program and directs the Department to continue to spend funds provided on research and development and program direction,” the budget report says.

Appropriators have stated that they want to increase ARPA-E’s budget by eight percent to $330 million.

Another policy in the projected budget was foregoing research. The White House has called for cutting spending on biological and environmental research (BER) by 43 percent to $349 million. This, too, was denied by the Senate Committee on Appropriations. Instead, Senate budgetmakers would bolster BER research by three percent, making it total $630 million. They also proposed giving DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy $1.937 billion, a seven percent cut from last year, but far above the $636 million proposed by the White House in their budget.

There were, however, some cuts included in the report, as is the case with most budgets and budget reviews. They would slash spending on fusion energy science by 39 percent to $232 million. They would also terminate the United States’s participation in the international fusion project (ITER), an international nuclear fusion research and engineering megaproject, which is projected to be the world’s largest magnetic confinement plasma physics experiment. All in all though, the report represented the ideology that it is often the government’s responsibility to provide citizens with innovation and technology that will benefit them. This is evidenced by the $4 billion in extra funds projected to be filtered into wind and solar power.

The report represents a huge stride in bipartisan politics and is a large example of the divided Senate working together. They seemed to have a common desire- to promote innovation that provides for a better future. In all, the report contains the phrase “short-sighted” three times. That’s as many times as it appeared in the previous 10 budget reports. This appears to be an endeavor that aims not only to protect the future and our society as a whole, but to care for current constituents as well. The committee noted that the wind and solar industries are booming sectors that employ hundreds of thousands of American workers, far more than the remaining U.S. coal industry the Administration has talked up so often.

Who’s to say what the future of the budget holds, given the dichotomy between the proposed budget and the corresponding report. It is unlikely that the process will go smoothly.

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