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Trump administration holds up nearly $1 billion for clean energy

It's no secret that the Trump administration has been doing everything it can to prop up fossil fuel, keeping the dying coal industry alive while playing favorites with natural gas companies. When it comes to renewable energy alternatives, Trump and his cohorts are providing no such favors. According to congressional Democrats, the Department of Energy under the Trump administration is actively holding up nearly $1 billion of funding meant to research and develop clean energy technology.

The Trump administration's apparent aversion to investing in renewable energy was raised during a House Science and Space Committee oversight panel by committee chairman and Democratic Representative Bill Foster of Illinois. During his time, he noted that the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) failed to spend $823 million in funding that was set aside by Congress for the year. That large chunk of cash was set aside to be handed out in grants that would fund research into improving renewable energy technology, developing electric vehicles, and optimizing energy efficiency. The office also canceled a $46 million program that was intended to fund solar research and development. Because that money was already set aside in the budget, it was already accounted for in the government's spending for the year.

Choosing not to spend it not only undermines Congress' attempt to dictate where that money should go, but also intentionally cuts off access to funds that could accelerate essential developments in the renewable energy field. So what's the reason for leaving all that cash on the table? According to Republican Representative Ralph Norman of South Carolina, that money is just "carryover" that will continue to be available this year, and having carryovers is "business as usual." Except, of course, it's not — at least not like this. The $823 million accounted for more than one third of the EERE's total budget for the year — far more than any typical carryover would account for. Instead, it seems likely that the Trump administration has made a conscious decision to undermine the development renewable energy — something that would benefit everyone, including Trump's "forgotten men and women" in the middle of the country — because it simply doesn't fit the political agenda.

It is perhaps not a surprise that Trump and his cronies with fossil fuel industry ties have finally gotten around to stifling the EERE. It has certainly been on their minds since the administration took power in 2017. On multiple occasions, Trump has put the office and other related programs on the chopping block. In 2017 — amid a slew of massive cuts targeting environmental protection and renewable energy — the administration proposed cutting the EERE by 70 percent, from $2.1 billion to $636 million. In 2018, he once again tried to gut the office by 70 percent, this time including a 74 percent cut to its solar, wind, water, and geothermal programs and a 73.5 percent cut to vehicle technology research. He once again tried to strip away the majority of the EERE's budget last year, this time deepening the cuts to 85 percent of the office. Congress has ignored these cuts year after year, largely preserving the agency at around the same size and continuing to provide it a budget intended to fund renewable energy projects. Since the Trump administration has been unable to squash the EERE through its proposed budgets, it has taken matters into its own hands by simply tying the hands of the EERE, preventing it from serving its purpose despite having the budget for it.

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At least with budget cuts, the Trump administration is transparent about its intentions. One of the problems with the way it is currently handling EERE is that it largely happens behind closed doors. In a report released by the House Science and Space Committee oversight panel, it was revealed the Trump's EERE has been intentionally obfuscating its activities while going out of its way to make life difficult for organizations that are in pursuit of grants and funding. According to the report, the EERE canceled a funding opportunity after already announcing finalists, then re-issued the opportunity and made interested parties re-apply with a significantly shorter timeline with the apparent goal of making life difficult for those interested in the funding. When government watchdog group Democracy Forward attempted to get access to information about the cancellations through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, it was denied by the agency. Following a lawsuit pushing the agency to release the requested documents, it finally acquiesced — and awarded the majority of the promised funds upon receiving significant scrutiny. A report from E&E News about the incident revealed the EERE wasted about $1 million simply rewriting the grant and forcing applicants to re-apply. That suggests that the Trump administration is not particularly worried about money — after all, spending $1 million on re-wording a grant and reviewing a new pile of applications does not seem like the behavior of an administration attempting to tighten its belt. Instead, Trump and his appointees in the EERE office are fine with spending that money — just as long as it doesn't actually go toward developing clean energy options.

The strangest thing about Trump's complete aversion to renewable energy sources and energy efficiency standards is that he is actively undermining everyday people by digging his feet in and preventing these developments. According to the National Resources Defense Fund, progress spurred by EERE funding has saved American households more than $500 per year. But programs that actually help people, particularly when it comes to energy efficiency, have never been Trump's bag. Last year, the administration announced that it would lift restrictions on incandescent lightbulbs for no reason other than the fact that Trump thinks more efficient LED lights make him look orange. (It is not the lights that are doing that, man.) Lately, Trump has been doing on completely unhinged rants against dishwashers and toilets designed to save on water, trotting out arguments like: "Remember the dishwasher, you'd press it. Boom — there'd be like an explosion. Five minutes later, you open it up, the steam pours out ... Now you press it 12 times. The women tell me, again. They give you like four drops of water." These anecdotes would seem to suggest that Trump has never actually interacted with any of these appliances in his life, which means he's also likely never paid attention to the energy bill of a single household. Offices like EERE help to push forward innovations that actually help everyday people save money. The Trump administration would rather waste it in order to push its own ideology.