On Thursday, all seven former Senate-confirmed heads of the Energy Department’s renewables office -- including three former Republican administration officials -- told Congress and the Trump administration that the deep budget cut proposed for that office would cripple its ability to function.
The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, or EERE, has been targeted with one of the most severe budget cuts in the Energy Department. Under Trump’s proposal, funding for the office would plummet from $2.069 billion in 2017 to $636 million in 2018 -- a 69 percent drop.
By comparison, funding for the entire department would fall by 5.6 percent were Trump’s budget to pass.
That is not okay with a number of former heads of the office -- who objected by writing a rare bipartisan letter dated June 8 to congressional leaders and Energy Secretary Rick Perry obtained by The Energy 202.
“While we have not always agreed on the relative emphasis of various elements of the EERE budget we are unified that cuts of this magnitude in the proposed FY18 budget will do serious harm to this office’s critical work and America’s energy future,” the former assistant secretaries of energy who collectively led EERE between 1989 and 2017 wrote.
“The reason you can get seven assistant secretaries together,” said Andy Karsner, who ran EERE between 2006 and 2008 under President George W. Bush, “is that we are unified, absolutely unified, on the positive and indispensable contribution government can make to pre-commercial applied science research and development.”
“I think that the cuts are made with a cleaver rather than a scalpel,” he added.
The letter is part of a pattern of establishment Republicans who have served in previous GOP presidential administrations breaking publicly with President Trump, mainly when he was a candidate. The most infamous example was the September open letter written by 75 retired career foreign service officers -- including high-ranking State Department officials -- saying Trump was “entirely unqualified to serve as President and commander in chief.” They fear they have been blacklisted for jobs inside the administration.
The rift between Trump and parts of the energy and environment bureaucracy only crystallized after the election as government climate scientists began copying their data, fearing for its survival, and the president appointed officials who are skeptical of the consensus around greenhouse gas warming.
“I don’t recall ever having seen an appointment of someone who is so disdainful of the agency and the science behind what the agency does,” former EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman told the website Grist in December after the nomination of Scott Pruitt to her old post. She was President George W. Bush’s first EPA chief.
To be sure, congressional Republicans are not all on board with the proposed cuts, which can't be implemented without their stamp of approval. But former officials were outraged anyway.
“You have Democrats and Republicans joining together in a bipartisan way to say this is an inappropriate Energy budget,” Dave Garman, who also led EERE under Bush, said. “I think it’s interesting that Republicans are saying this as well.”
Under President Obama, who ramped up subsidies and other spending in renewable energy as part of the 2009 economic stimulus package, the office became the target of GOP ire. Last year, for example, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Science Committee, said that Obama's proposed budget increase for 2017 for EERE “reads like a wish-list for the White House’s political allies.”
Perry might be difficult to sway. When the budget was proposed, the former Texas governor released a statement saying it “delivers on the promise to re-prioritize spending in order to carry out DOE’s core functions.”
But Republicans in Congress should be more open to persuasion. Many senators are protective of funding the DOE national laboratories in their districts. For example, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, which is represented by GOP Sen. Cory Gardner, gets the vast majority of its funding from EERE.
EERE's mission is to bring new energy technology to market, and it has done so with innovations in LEDs and solar technology. But it is also the primary regulator for energy-efficiency standards. But these energy efficiency standards might have a target on their back: They were a key part of the U.S. effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than a quarter under the Paris agreement, which Trump abandoned last week.
The ex-assistant secretaries believe it would be difficult for the office to fulfill that congressionally mandated duty if funding is cut by more than two-thirds. But by many indications, the White House has not shown concern for empowering various scientific government agencies to do their duties. According to a Post analysis, 85 percent of top science jobs have yet to be filled by Trump.
Currently, EERE does have an acting head -- Daniel Simmons, a conservative scholar who last year testified in Congress against federal financial support for a solar plant in the Mojave Desert.
“It is unseemly that the American taxpayer has contributed billions of dollars to these facilities,” Simmons told Congress.
But EERE is not the only office targeted with cuts. Trump surprised some by proposing a 56 percent cut to the department's Fossil Energy Research and Development Program.
"If it was me, I would broaden it," Mike Davis, who ran EERE under President George H.W. Bush, said of the letter, "because I’m concerned about the entire energy portfolio of the country."
For those who will be watching James B. Comey's turn on the Hill today, follow along with the Post, which will broadcast the spectacle here and live blog the main event here, with real-time updates from across Capitol Hill and beyond.
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MORE ON THE LONG AU REVOIR TO PARIS:
-- Joining the many, many countries to pile on the United States for its decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement is North Korea. Yes, that Korea. The isolated nation released a statement that called Trump's decision "the height of egotism and moral vacuum seeking only their own well-being at the cost of the entire planet," The Post's Adam Taylor reports.
-- In a rally in Cincinnati on Wednesday, Trump found himself at ease with his decision to withdraw from the Paris accord. He told his fans, “we will never let outside forces tell us what to do and how to do it. That would have been a huge anchor on our country," The Post's Damian Paletta and David Nakamura report.
-- Here's something that may not have made sense before last week. The mayors of Paris and Pittsburgh co-wrote an op-ed in The New York Times, charging that President Trump "tried to pit our two cities against each other:"
-- The Paris decision has given news outlets the opportunity to examine just how much the Republican Party has changed on environmental issues. Last week, The New York Times' Coral Davenport and Eric Lipton tracked that evolution from circa 2008 to today. On Wednesday, Vox's Christopher Sellers looked back all the way to the 1960s: "It’s ironic that today’s Republicans see America’s environmental state as such a liability, given that Republican presidents had such a big hand in constructing it. In the early 20th century Teddy Roosevelt pushed a federal system of parks, forests, and monuments. In 1970, it was Richard Nixon who created the Environmental Protection Agency and signed many foundational laws. Even during the last Republican administration of George W. Bush, longtime EPA employees have told me there was considerable if often tacit support by party leaders."
-- Google searches for “climate change” appear to be up:
In the US, climate change has never experienced the level of media attention or public interest it received over the past week. pic.twitter.com/NasECeHxFM— Trevor Houser (@TrevorGHouser) June 7, 2017
-- Canada's strategy of working with individual U.S. states on climate issues takes on new urgency after the federal government decided to pull out of the Paris agreement. The New York Times' Ian Austin reports: "One day after President Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris climate accord — saying he was elected to serve Pittsburgh, not Paris — the transport minister in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet visited with the mayor of Pittsburgh to discuss climate change. The meeting was part of a broad strategy by the Canadian federal government to work directly with American states and cities on global warming, and to become a leader on the issue. Though the effort began several months ago, Mr. Trump’s rejection last week of the Paris agreement has energized it."
-- Initial polling showed the Paris withdrawal is an unpopular decision among most Americans, with 6 in 10 opposed to the move, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll. But another new poll, conducted by Morning Consult, indicates that one part of Trump's announcement was relatively well received -- the related decision to stop giving money to the United Nations' Green Climate Fund. Morning Consult's Jack Fitzpatrick reports: "Respondents were also skeptical of the prospect of sending money to developing countries to help them shift toward cleaner sources of energy. Forty-eight percent of those surveyed said the United States 'should not provide aid to help developing nations reduce carbon emissions in their own countries,' while 32 percent said the country should."
-- Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has ordered a review of the federal government's plan to protect the greater sage grouse in 11 Western states. The Post's Darryl Fears reports: "The greater sage grouse, a chickenlike bird that nests in a giant habitat covering 11 states called the 'sagebrush sea,' exists only in the continental United States. Its mating rituals, where males dance on natural stages called leks to attract females, have drawn attention to the birds and made them a tourist attraction. But the greater sage grouse population is estimated to have fallen by as much as 90 percent because of industrial mining, oil and gas drilling, and other disturbances in the mineral-rich sage sea in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon and Washington. The health of sage grouse is an indication of the health of the sagebrush, which hundreds of animals depend on."
-- After last week admitting that "certainly, the climate changes" (without going into detail beyond that), Education Secretary Betsy DeVos received a letter from four Democratic senators to complain about the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank focused on the environment, sending schools material on "alternative scientific research" on climate change. BuzzFeed News' Zahra Hirji reports: "Packages holding a cover letter, a 135-page book, and an 11-minute DVD, all falsely claiming that there is no scientific consensus on man-made climate change, started arriving in teacher mailboxes in March."
-- The Post's Jason Samenow elaborates on some of the head-scratching among scientists over Pruitt's support for a “red team-blue team” exercise to foster debate on climate change: "Historically, red teams have been called upon in military exercises as a way to introduce alternative ideas and, ultimately, strengthen organizational performance. But David Titley, a climate scientist at Penn State University and retired Navy rear admiral, said introducing a red team into climate science doesn’t make sense. 'Science already has a red team: peer review,' he said. The peer review process allows any scientist to submit their work. The submission is then evaluated by other scientists on its merits, and published if deemed acceptable. Often, scientists must revise their manuscript based on reviewer comments before it is published. Most academic journals also allow scientists to submit critical comments on published studies which are printed if insightful."
-- In case it wasn't clear from the outset, a solar-paneled border wall, an idea floated by Trump in a White House meeting on Tuesday, is impractical for a host of reasons, Sophie Yeo reports for The Post:
- Vertical solar panels don't make sense. "Fixing the panels vertically could lead to an efficiency loss of around 50 percent, the analysis says, with the angle at which the sun would hit the wall losing an additional 10 percent in efficiency."
- Solar panels in remote U.S. borderland also don't make sense. "With less than 2 percent of the U.S. population living within 40 miles of the Mexico border, the electricity generated by the wall would mostly be useless — unless costly transmission lines were built to take the electricity to other areas of the country."
Sununu's decision didn't sit well with some New Hampshirites:
- The United Nations’ first ocean conference will continue in New York. The conference continues through the end of this week.
- The House Natural Resources subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans will have a hearing on land reclamation and marine mammal protection this morning.
- The Hudson Institute is hosting an event at 11:30 a.m. on “the importance of modernizing America’s infrastructure.”
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on studying “cost reductions in emerging energy technologies” starting at 10 a.m.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will testify before the House Appropriations subcommittee on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies on the department’s 2018 budget request.
- EPA head Scott Pruitt will testify before the House Appropriations Interior, Environment and Related Agencies subcommittee next week on the agency’s proposed budget.
- Secretary Ryan Zinke has until June 10 to make a recommendation about the future of the contested Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. The recommendation does not have to be made publicly. Morning Consult noted that Zinke could make his recommendation to Trump privately by Saturday.
- The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will hold its hearing on the nominations of Kristine Svinicki, Annie Caputo and David Wright to be members of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the nomination of Susan Bodine to be assistant administrator of the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance of the EPA. The hearing is now scheduled for June 13.
- Later this month, the U.S. Energy Information Administration will host its 2017 EIA Energy Conference in Washington D.C.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) called Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris accord "one of the single most destructive acts of a president:"
Watch President Trump joke that he expected to "take a lot of heat" when he approved the Dakota Access pipeline:
Trump also outlined his infrastructure plan while speaking in Ohio on Wednesday:
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser reaffirms the city's support for the Paris climate accord:
This bear may have a future as a musician:
Watch a meteor flash across the sky in D.C.:
On Wednesday, actor Leonardo DiCaprio met with with Mexican President Peña Nieto to sign an agreement to save endangered marine life in the Gulf of California, the Associated Press reports:
Now more than ever, the world is looking for bold leadership at every level to tackle climate change and environmental conservation issues. I am honored to work with President Peña Nieto (@EPN) to ensure the future viability of marine life in the Gulf. This action is a critical step towards ensuring that the Gulf of California continues to be both vibrant and productive, especially for species like the critically endangered #vaquita. My foundation, @LeonardoDiCaprioFdn, and I look forward to continuing to work with President Peña Nieto, our NGO partners and the local communities in the Gulf to reach greater progress on these important issues. Link in bio to learn more.
And NASA introduced 12 new astronauts yesterday: