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Rescue U.S. Energy Innovation

Kelly Sims Gallagher explains why cuts to U.S. government spending on energy research, development is harmful in Nature

The Trump Administration has proposed a 57% reduction in US government investments in energy research, development and demonstration (RD&D) at the Department of Energy (DOE), from US$3.8 billion allocated for fiscal year 2017 (FY2017) under the continuing resolution to US$1.6 billion in the FY2018 request (unless otherwise stated, all dollar figures are given in constant 2015 US dollars). These severe reductions, if enacted by Congress, would reduce the pace of US energy-technology innovation, ultimately harming the US economy, energy security, environmental quality and the capacity of the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases to do its share in reducing the emissions that are driving global climate change. This abdication of leadership would adversely affect not just US interests but global interests as well.

Since the President’s initial budget request in May, the relevant appropriation committees on both sides of Congress have considered it in the context of developing their own spending bills. Both the House and Senate must pass spending bills, and then these must be reconciled in conference before a final version is sent to the President to be signed into law, if he does not veto it. The House passed its bill in late July, and it imposes draconian cuts on the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) and on the renewable energy and energy efficiency programmes. The proposal by the Senate appropriations committee appears to ‘save’ ARPA-E but would still impose cuts across all the energy technology offices, ranging from a 39% cut to fusion to a 7% cut to renewables and efficiency (a complete comparison is available online1). Recognizing that there will be a continuing negotiation between the Trump Administration and the Congress on Trump’s FY2018 budget, we seek here to put the proposed cuts into historical perspective, to elucidate the flaws in their rationales and to elaborate on the harm they would cause. We focus on the President’s request because the arguments and evidence that we present still apply to proposed cuts in Congressional bills, and because President Trump still has veto power over the bill.

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