New Report Urges Congress to Ignore White House Budget Request for Key Energy Programs and Press for More Innovation

March 30, 2020

WASHINGTON—The Trump administration has proposed slashing federal investments in energy research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) by $3.2 billion, but a new report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the world’s leading think tank for science and technology policy, calls on Congress to ignore the administration’s proposal and allocate more funding to elevate clean energy innovation as a national priority.

“If enacted, this budget would impose the largest single-year cut to energy RD&D investments in the history of the department, bringing federal energy RD&D down to its lowest level since 2007,” said Colin Cunliff, a senior policy analyst with ITIF, who authored the report. “Lawmakers should ignore the administration and keep their own counsel on this issue. The long-term health of the economy and climate both depend on making clean-energy innovation a national priority.”

This is the fourth budgeting cycle in which the Trump administration has suggested reducing federal funding for the Energy Department’s applied energy programs—including energy efficiency, renewable energy, sustainable transportation, fossil energy, nuclear energy, and grid modernization. The administration’s current proposal is to cut 44 percent, from $5.4 billion in fiscal year 2020 to $3.0 billion in FY 2021.

ITIF’s new report notes that the administration’s budget proposal would eliminate initiatives such as the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), Title XVII loan guarantee program, and advanced vehicles manufacturing loan program. Basic energy-related research within the DOE Office of Science—which includes programs in fusion, bioenergy, and basic energy sciences—would also be reduced from $3 billion in FY 2020 to $2.5 billion in FY 2021.

The proposed cuts are particularly troubling as they coincide with a moment of struggle for the domestic clean energy industry, which is falling behind international competitors. Europe is outstripping the United States in offshore wind, while China now invests more in solar energy, lithium-ion batteries, advanced nuclear, carbon capture, and electric vehicles. In addition, U.S. companies account for a declining share of new clean tech patents, indicating that the country is behind in innovation.

ITIF recommends that Congress:

  • Provide robust investment in clean energy innovation during the FY 2021 appropriation cycle, while laying the groundwork for an aggressive multi-year increase, similar to the five-year doubling for medical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1998–2003;
  • Grow the ARPA-E budget to $1 billion annually by 2025;
  • Initiate new programs that address innovation gaps, particularly for manufacturing and harder-to-abate sources of carbon emissions in the industrial and transportation sectors, as well as for technologies to remove carbon directly from the air; and
  • Build a robust, diverse portfolio of large-scale energy technology demonstration projects.

“The administration’s failure to include clean energy technologies on its list of priorities—in concert with its determination to double down on its longstanding support for fossil fuels—represents a huge missed opportunity that would radically diminish America’s role in the coming global energy transition,” adds Cunliff. “Congress should make energy innovation a national imperative, and at least double U.S. investment in clean energy RD&D by 2025.”

Read the report.