Energy & Environment

Democrats hit DOE for holding back energy efficiency funds

Democrats on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee grilled Department of Energy (DOE) staff Wednesday on delays in releasing funds for energy efficiency research, a topic that has broad bipartisan support in Congress but not from the White House.

Members on both sides of the aisle have repeatedly listed energy efficiency measures as a must-have feature in any eventual climate legislation. But the Trump administration has repeatedly sought to ax numerous such programs in its budget.

“One of the sources of our unhappiness here is when we make a clear statement that we want something funded at a certain level, we expect that be executed in good faith [and] it’s unclear to many of us there has been good faith,” said Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) to Daniel Simmons, assistant secretary for DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).

The Trump budget for last year would have cut EERE’s budget by 80 percent, a cut Congress ignored. But many of those funds have remained unspent in Energy coffers; EERE carried over $823 million into this year, more than a third of its budget. The office also canceled $46 million in grants for solar research and development before they could even be awarded. 

Simmons said the department has fallen short in some of its efforts, but has laid out plans to spend all of its funding.

“DOE fully intends to utilize its appropriated research funding to invest in new technologies and innovation consistent with both congressional guidance and administration priorities,” he wrote in his opening statement to lawmakers. 

Some Republicans members on the committee, however, praised the department for pausing to review how the funds were being spent, describing the funding as a blank check with little direction.

“We can’t afford to recklessly spend federal funds,” said Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas). “Did I mention we have a huge federal debt and growing?”

Under the Trump administration DOE has rolled back energy efficiency regulations for lightbulbs pushed by the Obama administration and has proposed doing so for dishwashers, too.

In a speech to Republican House members in September, the president quipped that the lightbulbs the Obama administration “forced” Americans to use were “no good.”

“People said, ‘What’s with the lightbulb?’ And I said ‘Here’s the story,’ and I looked at it. … The bulb that we’re being forced to use, number one, to me most importantly, the light’s no good. I always look orange,” Trump said, to laughter.

Updated at 3:05 p.m.

Tags Bill Foster Climate change policy in the United States Donald Trump Energy policy of the United States Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Randy Weber United States Department of Energy

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