Department of Energy RD&D Appropriations, Fiscal Year 2019

As the Fiscal Year 2019 appropriations bills head to conference committee, Congress should maintain its commitment to federal investment in energy research, development, and demonstration.

In its fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget agreement, Congress wisely rejected the extreme cuts to the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) budget proposed by the Trump administration. Congress is now poised to sustain these positive trends in federal support of energy innovation in FY 2019. The House and Senate energy and water appropriations bills are now complete, with the House passing its version of the FY 2019 spending bill on June 8 and the Senate following suit on June 25. The bills now head to a conference committee, where differences between the House and Senate versions will be worked out before a final version is sent to the White House for the president’s signature.

Both the House and Senate have firmly rejected the administration’s focus on early-stage research, and direct DOE to support all stages of innovation, including mid- and late-stage RD&D. The House and Senate appropriations bills largely sustain the federal commitment to energy RD&D embodied in the FY 2018 budget agreement, while rejecting the administration’s proposed cuts. Both proposals would provide relatively flat funding of around $7.5 billion for the energy RD&D program offices, out of a total DOE budget of about $35 billion.

The two chambers differ in how they allocate funding across the energy RD&D programs. In a positive development, the House—which had previously sought to eliminate the highly effective Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E)—proposed funding ARPA-E, though with an 8 percent cut below FY 2018 levels. The Senate proposal would boost funding for ARPA-E by 6 percent. Both chambers also propose funding increases to energy research within the Office of Science. The House proposal provides a 5 percent increase to Basic Energy Sciences (BES), while the Senate proposal would boost BES by 2 percent.

The largest spending difference is in the applied energy programs: the Office of Electricity (OE) and cybersecurity offices (CESER), Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), Fossil Energy (FE), and Nuclear Energy (NE). The House proposal would boost funding for grid modernization in OE and CESER by 29 percent, compared with the Senate’s more modest 5 percent boost. In the other applied energy offices—EERE, FE, and NE—the Senate would keep spending fixed at FY 2018 levels. In contrast, the House proposal cuts energy efficiency and renewable energy RD&D by $243 million, or more than 10 percent, while boosting funding for fossil-fuel and nuclear programs by 8 percent and 12 percent, respectively.

In another encouraging sign, both chambers provide funding for the Title 17 and Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing (ATVM) loan programs. Title 17 provides loan guarantees that help reduce financing costs for innovative clean energy technologies, while ATVM provides direct loans to automotive manufacturers for advanced fuel-efficient technologies. This is a reversal from last year, when the House supported the administration’s proposal to eliminate the two loan programs.

The bills now head to a conference committee, where differences between the House and Senate versions will be worked out before a final version is reported back to both chambers for final passage. If a final spending bill is not passed before the end of the fiscal year on September 30, Congress is likely to pass a short-term continuing resolution.