Over the last fortnight, a draft version of Donald Trump’s proposed budget, the final version of the proposed budget, and his proposed infrastructure plan saw the light of day and the reaction to all three has probably not been what the White House might have hoped for — though probably should have been expected nevertheless.
And, to narrow our focus away from the disastrous impact Trump’s plans will have on the United States’ deficit (in short: bad. really bad), I can personally testify to the level of outrage and concern stemming from both the budget and infrastructure plans by pointing to the number of emails which piled into my inbox like an unhappy inverted clown car.
Leak Reveals 72% Cut To Clean Energy
Rewind back to the end of January when The Washington Post acquired a leaked draft version of the incoming budget for the fiscal year 2019. The draft revealed that the Trump administration would ask Congress to approve massive cuts to the Energy Department’s renewable energy and energy efficiency programs.
“Tuesday night President Trump failed to even mention a single clean energy industry,” said Bob Keefe, Executive Director of E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs), referring to President Trump’s first State of the Union. “Now he is not just ignoring clean energy, it is looking like he wants to wipe out its future. This isn’t about cutting a budget, this is about cutting innovation and competitiveness in America’s fastest-growing jobs sector.”
“It’s no wonder, with Groundhog Day around the corner, that the Trump administration is floating another absurd budget proposal on energy,” added Elizabeth Noll at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Instead of leading the charge on the nation’s fastest-growing employment sector — wind and solar power — the administration is rushing to surrender America’s leadership on clean energy. The federal government has long been the No. 1 funder of clean energy innovation in this country.”
The continued attack against the country’s clean energy institutions is unsurprising — especially when you consider the similar cuts Donald Trump’s White House lobbied for a year ago, which included proposed cuts intended for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Energy (DOE), and in particular the country’s leading clean energy research office, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).
“This is the real war on American energy,” exclaimed 350.org Executive Director May Boeve, in response to this year’s round of proposals. “Trump is trying to purposely sabotage the burgeoning renewable energy industry to appease fossil fuel billionaires. This budget isn’t about what’s best for America, it’s about corporate greed. Millions of jobs could be created by wind and solar, and we’ll need robust research and planning to get there. Last night our ‘Climate State of the Union’ provided a plan for local action to keep fossil fuels in the ground and drive forward a fast and just transition to 100% renewable energy. Without support from Washington, it will take communities across this country and around the globe working together to build the fossil free world we need.”
An Interim Bipartisan Budget Act Win
In between the leak of Trump’s proposed budget and the actual release of the proposal, the US Congress passed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 which would prevent further shutdowns (for the moment) and increase spending for defense and non-defense priorities, funding for hurricane relief, four extra years of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), suspending the debt ceiling until March 1, 2019, and importantly for us, the extension of tax credits for “orphan” renewable energy technologies.
After Congress extended the Investment Tax Credit for solar energy and the Production Tax Credit for wind energy at the end of 2015, several other technologies were left floundering — including fiber-optic solar, solar water heating, groundwater geothermal heating, fuel cells, geothermal heat pumps, and small wind technology. Business and residential tax credits for these technologies have now been extended through to 2021.
“However, it is a major disappointment that the same benefits were not extended to hydropower, geothermal energy, biomass, and marine hydro-kinetics, which were only given retroactive tax incentives for 2017,” explained Gregory Wetstone, President and CEO, American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE). “Tax credits are supposed to be incentives and you don’t encourage investment in these important technologies with credits that are only available last year.”
“This bill’s lack of parity is underscored by the complete elimination of the deadline for completion of nuclear power facilities to qualify for tax credits,” Wetstone added. “The nuclear credit was also made transferable for public entities, allowing for easier access to tax equity, a mechanism not made available to renewable energy.”
Official Budget Slashes Funding For Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency
Only a few days later and the White House released its official budget proposals — a $4.4 trillion plan that throws the deficit out the window and puts into stark relief the dangers of the tax cut passed in 2017.
It is important to note that the proposal published by the White House is just that — a proposal. More than that, it barely acts as a guidebook for Congress as they seek to create a budget that will actually get the votes necessary to pass.
It’s not good news for America’s clean energy industry — though, again, it is important to note that the President’s proposals need not necessarily find much support with either Democrats or Republicans. While the Energy Department would see a 2% increase in its budget over fiscal year 2017 in Trump’s proposal, the proposal would slash 66% of the budget for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, and instead prioritize nuclear spending (the weapons, not the energy source).
“Our nuclear weapons program has been pushed back and pushed back and pushed back for years,” Energy Secretary Rick Perry said at a briefing. “They haven’t been able to keep up with modernization work that is needed to occur in that space for maybe decades.”
The Environmental Protection Agency would see a cut of 25% as well, with several dozen programs eliminated altogether.
“All of us know from personal experience that we make the best decisions when we gather information, rely on experts and impacted community members to enlighten us, and think long-term. The president’s budget violates all of these common-sense values and practices,” said Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“The president’s budget is an assault on the vital role that federal scientists perform in gathering information that we need to make good public policy. His budget would cut the EPA’s funding by a third, and targets the research arm of the EPA with a 40% cut, therefore threatening the work of scientists who evaluate the hazards posed by toxic pollutants and advise us on where hazardous pollutants might travel if released into the environment.”
“Trump’s steep cuts are a really ugly assault on clean energy. This is a counterproductive move that will threaten our climate, good jobs and economic progress,” added Greer Ryan, renewable energy and research specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “While the proposal is unlikely to make it through Congress, it’s another clear signal that Trump will do anything to prop up dirty coal and nuclear power.”
An Infrastructure Plan To Top It All Off
And, to top it all off, Donald Trump released his long-awaited infrastructure plan (PDF) — his plan “to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure.” Trump calls it a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan, but in reality it is only a $200 billion infrastructure plan combined with a hope that private investors will kick in the rest.
The key part of his plan, however, seems to be to sell off existing infrastructure in an effort to pay for more. Further, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced that he had identified over $240 billion in proposed cuts over the coming decade for existing infrastructure programs — more than what Trump is proposing the Government would spend on his plan.
What Trump’s plan does intend is to offer up $100 billion in new federal spending to create incentive programs for states and other locales to invest in more infrastructure — with funding awarded on a competitive basis up to 20% of the project’s cost. Another $50 billion is intended for rural infrastructure programs to be distributed to governors through block grants, and another $20 billion for “bold, innovative, and transformative infrastructure projects that could dramatically improve infrastructure.”
The response to Trump’s budget proposal has been met with, if possible, even more vitriolic and scathing criticism.
“Today, I reviewed the White House’s 55-page infrastructure plan,” said UCS President Ken Kimmell. “Here are some words that don’t appear anywhere in the document: ‘climate change,’ ‘renewable energy,’ ‘modern electric grid,’ ‘resilience,’ and ‘adaptation.’
“This is a plan to shore up the infrastructure of the past, rather than invest in what we need for the future, such as transmission lines that connect the country’s plentiful wind and solar energy to the population centers where it’s needed, a modern electric grid to accommodate more renewables, and energy storage projects to set us up for a widescale rollout of this technology.
“This plan ignores American energy and transportation needs of today — as well as tomorrow,” said Grant Carlisle, advocacy director of E2. “It does not modernize our grid so we can reach more distributed energy. It does not plan for advanced vehicles to be on our roads. It is unfortunately just not a forward-looking document.”
“Trump’s infrastructure plan unveiled today is as we expected: a sell off of our public assets to help Wall Street extract profit from our taxpayer-funded roads, bridges and water systems,” explained Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director, Food & Water Watch. “The extent of the proposed sell-off — the Tennessee Valley Authority, Reagan and Dulles Airports, and the Washington Aqueduct, for starters — is breathtakingly brazen. He’s effectively sending your tax dollars to Wall Street to manage, not accountable public officials.
“For water specifically, his scheme would all but ensure the most marginalized Americans — low income communities and people of color — have reduced access to affordable, clean water.”
“This is a climate-wrecking fossil fuel infrastructure plan that fast-tracks pipelines at the expense of frontline communities and working people,” savaged 350.org Executive Director May Boeve. “This flies in the face of everything we know about climate science. While the Trump administration puts the corporate bottom line ahead of our communities and our climate, we are standing up to pipelines and all fossil fuel projects around the world, and getting to work to build the fossil free climate-resilient infrastructure we need.”
So … all of that bodes really well.