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Green Building News

Trump Budget Attacks Familiar Targets

Energy Department and Environmental Protection Agency face cuts, but Congress has been an ally in the past

The Solar Decathlon is among the programs funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, which is facing a $3 billion cut in funding in a new budget proposal from the White House. It's not yet clear how the proposal would affect individual programs. This Solar Decathlon entry was from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in 2017. Photo courtesy of Dennis Schroeder/NREL

It’s a new year, and the Trump Administration’s proposed federal budget has a familiar ring: more for defense, less for energy research and the environment.

The proposed 2021 budget, which was released on Feb. 10, mostly protects the Department of Defense, Social Security, and Medicare, The Washington Post reports. But as was the case in each of the last several years, the budget also seeks lower spending for the Environmental Protection Agency and energy research.

The $4.8 trillion spending plan would reduce EPA funding by 26% and eliminate 50 EPA programs deemed wasteful by the administration. Research and development spending at EPA would fall from $500 million to $281 million, according to The Hill.

Total cuts to the EPA would be $2.4 billion. That’s in line with budget proposals since Trump took office: a 31% reduction for the EPA in 2017, 23% less in 2018, and 31% less in last year’s budget. As in the past, the proposal is very unlikely to be approved as is.

Trump would like to spend more on defense—including the development of new nuclear weapons—while eliminating funding for the Energy Star program, which would be kept afloat by fees paid by business.

Other targets:

  • Funding for programs that support clean-energy projects, which would be eliminated, according to The Post.
  • Research grants to non-federal agencies, such as universities, because they are “not required to meet EPA’s statutory obligations,” an administration budget summary said.
  • Water project programs in Maryland, New York, and Washington would suffer. The Hill points out that those are Democratic states while projects in swing states, such as the Great Lakes region and the Florida Everglades, would see no cuts in similar programs.
  • Clean water grants for small and disadvantaged communities.
  • Energy technology research and development, which would see spending reduced from $5.3 billion to $2.8 billion.
  • The National Park Service, which would see a loss of $581 million.
  • The EPA’s Superfund program, down by 10% despite a 15-year high backlog of toxic waste cleanup sites.

Environmental advocates panned the proposal.

“Congress should toss this Trump budget into the dustbin of history like they’ve done with the other ones,” said former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, now the head of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The White House said in a summary that the EPA’s core work would continue to be supported while 50 “wasteful programs that are outside of the EPA’s core mission” or duplicated by other efforts would be eliminated, saving taxpayers more than $600 million.

The proposed cuts are unsettling for people who work in such areas as the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, part of the U.S. Department of Energy, or in other branches of government focused on building research and renewable energy. But over the last three budget cycles, Congress typically ignores the president’s proposed cuts to the EPA.

The new budget plan does not mention climate change, The New York Times reports.

Where do the ideas comes from

Trump’s general views on environmental regulations, renewable energy, fossil fuels, and climate change are by now well known. But where do the specific policy proposals come from? A report published by Rolling Stone last year offers some clues.

In it, Andy Kroll explores the creation of the Trump Leadership Council, a group of economic advisors that first met in the summer of 2016. Stephen Moore, a member of the council and an economist for the Heritage Foundation, described members “more as maverick business leaders” than conventional Republican businessmen and women.

Their influence has been considerable, Kroll reports. For example, oil and coal industry representatives argued for a rollback of environmental protections for air and water. That’s the course the administration has pursued. Others pushed for tariffs on Chinese goods, which also came to pass.

The National Association of Manufacturers, a lobbying group, sent the administration a list of 132 regulations that its members didn’t like, including climate change legislation that former President Obama had championed. The public watchdog group Public Citizen later reported that the administration had moved forward with 64% of the association’s recommendations.

The Leadership Council drew on a range of industries and businesses, including aerospace, commerce, tech, banking, transportation, health care, energy, and manufacturing. Among its members was Jerry Howard, CEO of the National Association of Home Builders.

Rolling Stone mentions no specific proposals that NAHB or Howard might have made in the last three years that would have affected the housing industry. GBA has emailed questions to a spokeswoman for NAHB to learn whether Howard was still a member of the Leadership Council, and whether NAHB, like the manufacturers’ lobby, had made specific policy recommendations to the administration.

That said, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler chose NAHB’s annual convention, the International Builders’ Show, to announce new regulations last month on U.S. waterways. The revisions are a rollback of Obama era regulations that expanded federal jurisdiction over bodies of water that builders and developers thought should be exempt. The change eases restrictions on land development.

In a statement, then-NAHB Chairman Greg Ugalde said, “NAHB commends EPA Administrator Wheeler for finalizing a new definition for the waters of the U.S. rule that will boost housing affordability by clarifying the limits of federal jurisdiction over certain ‘waterbodies.’ ” NAHB said the 2015 regulations enacted by the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers included an “unprecedented” expansion of federal oversight that Congress had not intended to approve.

Cuts to EERE would hurt

Budget negotiations are at an early stage, but the proposals signal the administration’s recurring policy goals.

The Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy is responsible for a number of programs of interest to high-performance building and renewable energy. Such well-known facilities as the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (building science) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, are funded through EERE.

Other programs include the SunShot Initiative, which focuses on solar energy, as well as research programs for wind, water, and geothermal development. The Weatherization Assistance Program and the Solar Decathlon, a design competition for university students, also gets its funding through EERE.

Overall, the Energy Department would see $3.1 billion less in federal funding, from $38.5 billion to $35.4 billion if the proposal were adopted as is, The Post said. How the proposal would affect specific programs at EERE, however, is not known. The agency’s media office didn’t respond immediately to an email asking for comment, and in the past employees have been reluctant to discuss the projected impact of budget cuts. That may be because they’re not authorized to speak for EERE, or because budget proposals floated by the White House at this early stage aren’t that meaningful.

-Scott Gibson is a contributing writer at Green Building Advisor and Fine Homebuilding magazine.

7 Comments

  1. Patrick Stuart | | #1

    More kabuki theater. As an example, the national DOE weatherization program is continuously axed by far-right, upper echelon politicians whenever they’re in the majority, only to be supported by lower members of the same party when real budgets are hammered out. That said, in the immediacy it’s saddening how much money, time and labor is wasted on such puffery and chest-thumping. In the long-term, it’s nightmare-inducing that the disavowal of science, data, facts and research has become the new religion.

  2. Wes Stewart | | #2

    Well if that science journal, "Rolling Stone" published it, it must be true.

    1. Fred Frasch | | #3

      It's called investigative reporting. Is there anything particular that you find to be questionable or do you just like to be facetious?

      1. Wes Stewart | | #4

        In summary, I find "defence" mentioned in the US Constitution, I found nothing about solar decathlons.

        1. Fred Frasch | | #5

          Well, there is also the bit about promoting the general Welfare. While I am leery of government over reach, the issue is complex. Many believe that the government should, in a broad sense, protect our environment so that the Blessings of Liberty may be secured for ourselves and our Prosperity.

          1. Wes Stewart | | #6

            Many of us also believe that for example, the federal government should not be giving tax credits---hence increasing my taxes---to my neighbor so he can buy a Tesla automobile. (I have nothing against Teslas, I have driven one and it's a very nice car, I just don't think Musk should be scamming the government)

            Only by the most torturous stretching of "logic" can this be justified as promoting the general welfare. Nevertheless, it's routinely done.

            Multiply this by thousands of programs, grants, organizations, etc and it's no wonder this government is broke.

  3. Fred Frasch | | #7

    Wes, I suspect we agree on more things than you may think. I disagree strongly with government subsidies to oil gas and coal to the tune of 20 billion a year. However I do see a role for the government in promoting alternative and high tech solutions to seemingly intractable problems.

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