The appropriations bill shows continued Republican support for clean energy—no matter what the president’s budget authors try to kill.
After signing a bill laying out the 2018 budget Friday, the president held a press conference to publicly berate legislators about its contents.
“I say to Congress, I will never sign another bill like this again,” he said. “I’m not going to do it again.”
In addition to lacking complete funding for his border wall, the $1.3 trillion budget also avoids the drastic cuts Trump wanted in almost every area of the government.
Under Trump’s proposed 2018 budget, the Department of Energy would have seen funding cut by 6 percent, along with programs such as the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Loan Program being eliminated altogether. Instead, the bill passed last week increased the DOE budget over 2017, to $34.5 billion. Many programs, including ARPA-E, received more funding than in the previous year.
The final text serves as a rebuke from legislators of the administration’s energy agenda and an endorsement of clean energy programs that have bipartisan support. It may serve as a signal to the industry that the administration’s repeated attempts to cut down energy advancement won’t be tolerated.
Gregory Wetstone, in a statement from the American Council on Renewable Energy, said, “It’s clear that Congress recognizes the incredible value” of clean energy.
Environmental Entrepreneurs noted the bipartisan backing exhibited in the budget legislation.
“Together, Republicans and Democrats voted to support American innovation in energy and vehicle technologies,” said advocacy director Grant Carlisle in a statement.
While negotiations around the tax reform bill — particularly in the House — initially threatened credits for renewable energy, lawmakers ultimately passed legislation that protected the federal Investment Tax Credit and Production Tax Credit. In the February budget bill that sketched out spending limits, debates about whether to include credits for “orphan” technologies ended with legislators including credits for technologies such as carbon capture, nuclear projects and fuel cells.
Republican support for clean energy shows the president’s party doesn’t stand behind him on the issue.
In a January op-ed, Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa who has questioned whether climate change is the result of human activity, promised to continue fighting for clean energy. Grassley was among those who argued against assaults on clean energy in the tax reform bill.
“I’ve long advocated for an all-of-the-above American energy policy and will continuing defending renewable fuels,” he wrote.
Senator Dean Heller from Nevada, who has also questioned humanity’s role in fomenting climate change, came to the defense of clean energy credits. His website announces that he wants to work to “develop renewable resources efficiently and affordably.” In February he won an award from the Solar Energy Industries Association for his support of clean energy.
Those positions are no longer outliers in the Grand Old Party. Though Republican support for clean energy has grown largely due to promises of economic development and job creation rather than from an ideological commitment to the issue, many of the country’s most productive clean energy states are also conservative. The budget bill is just the latest indication that framing the clean energy debate as strictly blue versus red constitutes a lack of up-to-date context.
But Democrats say there’s more work to be done — and the politics of the clean energy landscape certainly remain nuanced.
In March, Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell criticized her Republican House colleagues for “holding back the American economy” by not offering support for clean energy in their tax legislation draft. She added that the debate over alternative energy tax credit extensions created “bipartisan anger” in the Senate.
As that bipartisan support continues to coalesce, another test is approaching. The administration released its 2019 budget proposal last month. While it suggested a slight increase in Department of Energy funding (which would be less than the department actually received under this new bill), ARPA-E is again slated for elimination.
But if 2018 serves as any indication, the cuts won’t be tolerated.