Trump seeks to shift Energy Dept. priorities with clean energy cuts, $2 billion boost to nuclear spending
The Department of Energy building in Washington. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
The Trump administration’s fiscal 2019 budget might never become law, but it’s a declaration of intent, and it would reshuffle priorities at the Energy Department, boosting outlays on nuclear security and slashing spending on renewables and energy efficiency.
Overall, the administration is asking Congress for $30.6 billion for the Energy Department, a 1.3 percent increase from fiscal 2017. That includes $1.6 billion added to the department’s budget after a last-minute spending deal was reached in Congress last week.
The administration wants a 17.5 percent increase for the department’s National Nuclear Security Administration, which safeguards the nation’s stockpile of nuclear weapons. The NNSA makes up nearly half the department’s budget, and under the 2019 proposal, it would get $15.1 billion, up from $12.8 billion in fiscal 2017.
“Our nuclear weapons program has been pushed back and pushed back and pushed back for years,” Energy Secretary Rick Perry said at a briefing Monday. “They haven’t been able to keep up with modernization work that is needed to occur in that space for maybe decades.”
At the same time, the administration is asking for deep cuts elsewhere, especially in the agency’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which studies advanced transportation and wind and solar energy. The budget requests $696 million for that program, a 66 percent cut from the 2017 budget. That number includes $120 million added back after the recent two-year budget accord. The budget deal two weeks ago also meant that OMB restored $1.2 billion to science programs that would have been cut deeply.
The administration also restored money for carbon capture and storage, often dubbed “clean coal.” The process captures carbon dioxide and stores it in various ways. Although a likely favorite for pro-coal Trump, last year he proposed slashing the program by 55 percent. The 2019 budget proposal finds additional money because of to the budget deal and asks for $503 million. Though a more modest cut than expected, that’s still a 20 percent decrease from the $631 million the program received in 2017.
Dan Reicher, former chief of staff at the Energy Department, said that the administration’s spending on carbon capture and storage would reinforce the incentive provided by the new carbon capture tax credit that was part of the budget passed last week. Reicher said it seems “the administration now realizes carbon capture and storage is a viable technology.”
The administration angered many lawmakers by saying it would restart the licensing of Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, a repository for spent fuel from nuclear power reactors across the country.
“I’ve made it clear why Nevada does not want to turn into the nation’s nuclear waste dump,” Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) said in a statement. “Under my leadership Congress has not appropriated funding for licensing activities at Yucca Mountain as requested in the last budget, and I’m going to continue to fight to make sure that this project doesn’t see the light of day.”
The administration said it would abolish a variety of other popular programs. It would zero out the department’s loan guarantee programs while maintaining the existing portfolio. It would abolish the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, a program popular in Congress. And it would eliminate the mixed oxide nuclear fuel fabrication facility in South Carolina that has the support of Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.).
The administration also is seeking to sell electric transmission assets of a handful of long-standing federally owned utilities, including the Bonneville Power Administration in Washington state, the Western Area Power Administration and the Tennessee Valley Authority.