Lawmakers and President Trump only recently settled on a package to fund most of the government through December, which the president is expected to sign this morning.
But funding for the Department of Energy for the next 12 months -- almost a record in Washington -- has already been agreed to by boosting funds for the agency. Earlier this month, Congress sent the White House a spending package that boosts funding for the Department of Energy by $974 million to a total of $35.5 billion.
That uptick for one of the federal government's biggest backers of scientific research amounts to another bipartisan rejection of deep budget cuts called for by President Trump around efforts to develop alternative energy production seen as central to addressing climate change. Despite the discrepancy, Trump signed the department’s budget into law late last week.
Since Trump took office, the head of the White House’s Office of Budget and Management, fiscal hawk Mick Mulvaney, sent budget proposals to Congress that attempted to shift responsibility for developing new energy technologies away from the federal government and toward the private sector.
“It's an ideologically based view that the marketplace will undertake whatever investments needed in innovation and that there there's no need for a large government role here,” said Joseph Hezir, former chief finance officer at the Energy Department under Barack Obama and now principal at the Energy Futures Initiative.
But as it has done in years past, both Republicans and Democrats rejected the Trump administration's suggestions for reining in spending on research across the country at national laboratories — often found in lawmakers in charge of doling out cash to states and districts.
Trump’s budget shop, for example, proposed slashing funding for the department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy down to $696 million, a 66 percent cut from the 2017 budget. Congress instead increased funding for that office, known for research into solar and wind energy, to $2.38 billion.
Even more drastically, the White House wanted to eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). Well liked by members of both parties in Congress, that technology incubator backs projects too risky for private investors. Congress bumped its budget up to $366 million.
Congress made its intentions clear with APRA-E in a report on the bill. The administration “shall not use any appropriated funds to plan or execute the termination of ARPA–E,” it read.
Even Energy Secretary Rick Perry praised ARPA-E as “a good return on investment for the American taxpayers’ dollars” during a hearing of a House Appropriations subcommittee in March.
Going forward, the worry among alternative energy advocates is not the whims of Congress but the vagaries of the economy. When economic growth slows and tax revenues fall, appropriators will look to tighten belts, and the Energy Department “is not going to be immune to that downward pressure that's going to affect pretty much everything across government,” Hezir said.
Despite its popularity, ARPA-E does not receive as much money as intended when it was originally conceived during the George W. Bush administration when the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recommended an eventual annual budget of $1 billion.
“It’s doing great work at $300 million,” said Ellen Williams, a University of Maryland professor who ran ARPA-E between 2014 and 2017. “It could work even better at $1 billion.”
But in the current political climate, Williams added she is “just grateful that it is continuing to get funding at a substantial level."
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— EPA orders St. Louis site cleanup: The Environmental Protection Agency has ordered a cleanup of a controversial landfill filled with radioactive waste near St. Louis, the latest move from the agency that shows it intends to carry out the policies set out by former EPA chief Scott Pruitt, The Post’s Brady Dennis reports. “This action reflects President Trump’s commitment to return EPA to its core responsibility — clean air, clean water and clean land,” EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said at a news conference. Dennis reports that the move delighted “community activists who have fought for such an outcome” but upset “companies who argue that the agency’s own science called for a more modest cleanup.”
— ...and slashes science adviser office: The agency is also set to eliminate its Office of the Science Advisor, the New York Times reports, a “senior post that was created to counsel the E.P.A. administrator on the scientific research underpinning health and environmental regulations.” The latest change within the agency follows another report from the New York Times that the agency placed the leader of its Office of Children’s Health on administrative leave. It is also seemingly another move from the agency to curtail the inclusion of scientific research in policymaking.
— Post-Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rules get revamped: The Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement has finalized a plan to ease offshore-drilling regulations that were put into place following the deadly 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. A new 176-page rule notes that the previous regulations “created potentially unduly burdensome requirements for oil and natural gas production operators on the Outer Continental Shelf, without meaningfully increasing safety of the workers or protection of the environment,” according to the New York Times. Included in the changes is a removal of a requirement of “independent verification of safety measures and equipment used on offshore platforms,” and removal of a “requirement that oil companies design their equipment to function in ‘most extreme’ scenarios,” the Times reports.
— About Christine Blasey Ford's lawyer: Energy industry observers will note that Michael Bromwich, one of the two lawyers to join Ford when she testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee that Judge Brett Kavanaugh tried to rape her, was President Obama's first director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement. That office was created in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
— Warming waters bolstered last year’s hurricanes: The devastating hurricanes that blew through the Atlantic last year were probably made stronger because of abnormally warm waters there, a new study published in the journal Science has found. The study also projected that in the future, warming ocean waters can lead to “even higher numbers of major hurricanes,” The Post’s Jason Samenow reports. “Considering the toll of the 2017 hurricane season, which unleashed 10 hurricanes in 10 weeks, and three of the five costliest hurricanes on record in Harvey, Irma and Maria, it is difficult to fathom the implications of similar circumstances repeating with even greater frequency,” he adds.
— “Nowhere near on track”: A co-author of a United Nations report warned that the world is “nowhere near on track” to meet a goal to avoid increasing global temperatures more than 1.5 Celsius above the preindustrial period, The Guardian reports. “It’s extraordinarily challenging to get to the 1.5C target and we are nowhere near on track to doing that,” Duke University climate scientist Drew Shindell told The Guardian. “While it’s technically possible, it’s extremely improbable, absent a real sea change in the way we evaluate risk. We are nowhere near that.” Shindell is also a co-author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report set to be released in South Korea next month.
— Oil prices creep higher as OPEC wrestles with Trump’s call to increase production: Global oil prices spiked Thursday as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries grappled at the conclusion of its meeting in Algiers with Trump’s call to increase production. “Benchmark Brent crude was up slightly at $81 a barrel on London’s markets, while West Texas Intermediate was trading up at more than $72 per barrel,” The Post’s Thomas Heath reports. Heath also described how U.S. producers have slowed down drilling due to investor pressure, which has led to “a very tight sliver between worldwide supply and demand. That means any increase in demand or a decline in production in some corner of the world can send prices upward.”
— The road ahead for Tesla: Shares of the electric automaker dropped Thursday following reports that the Securities and Exchange Commission sued chief executive Elon Musk, The Post’s Drew Harwell reports, “saying he lied to investors when he claimed he had secured the funding to take the automaker private.” “Musk’s false and misleading public statements and omissions caused significant confusion and disruption in the market for Tesla’s stock and resulting harm to investors,” federal regulators wrote in the complaint filed in Manhattan federal court. Musk, whom the SEC is seeking to remove as CEO, called the suit an "unjustified action."
— More electric car news: Meanwhile, Volvo announced that it plans to sell electric trucks in North America by 2020, Reuters reports. “This year, Volvo began producing its first fully-electric truck for commercial use - the Volvo FL Electric - which is expected to be sold next year for urban distribution operations in Europe,” Reuters reports. “The company said on Thursday the North American truck would be based on the same drivetrain technology, but a spokesman said it was too early to say how similar the two trucks would be in the end.”
— New York's plan to save nukes gets greenlight: A three-judge appeals court panel ruled New York's program that shores up struggling nuclear plants is legal and that it does not interfere with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s authority over wholesale electricity markets, the Washington Examiner reports.
- The Women’s Council on Energy and the Environment holds an event on defining the Waters of the United States.
— This major discovery upends long-held theories about the Mayan civilization: In 2016, surveyors took flight over the ancient Maya empire and mapped forests with lasers, only to discover more than 60,000 structures in a study authors described "as a revelation,” The Post’s Ben Guarino reports. “It’s like putting glasses on when your eyesight is blurry,” one archaeologist said.