Science Policy & Funding News

Fossil Energy Sources Win Out in Interior and Energy Budgets

The budgets reflect the administration’s energy and environment priorities by boosting research and development for coal and oil while decreasing funding for clean and renewable energies and environmental protection.

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The White House’s proposed federal budget for fiscal year (FY) 2019 prioritizes coal energy and offshore oil drilling over renewable energy sources while also requesting funding decreases for research into technologies that would make those fossil fuels more energy efficient and environmentally friendly. Although the FY 2019 budget plan requests overall increases for the Department of the Interior (DOI) and Department of Energy (DOE), the departments’ budget justifications show substantial rearrangements of allocations compared with FY 2017 enacted levels.

The budget proposed by President Donald Trump is viewed by many as an outline of the administration’s priorities rather than a starting point for a congressional budget, and the FY 2019 plan has drawn criticism from congressional Democrats and others.

“A budget is where we lay out our priorities as a nation,” Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a statement. “The priorities identified in this budget are not the priorities of the American people.”

Rush Holt, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and a former Democratic congressman from New Jersey, noted that Trump said last month in his State of the Union address that Americans “push the bounds of science and discovery.”

If the budget plan is enacted, it “would dismantle the science and technology enterprise in the United States,” Holt said. “We cannot push the bounds of discovery by following a blueprint that would drastically cut research funding.” Holt reacted to the proposed budget in a 12 February AAAS statement.

Under the plan, which was released that same day, DOI would see a slight increase, $88 million (0.5%), compared with the FY 2017 omnibus bill, which was the most recent comprehensive spending bill passed by Congress. However, the shift in administration priorities would lead to substantial increases for Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (7.8%); Ocean Energy Management, which focuses mainly on offshore oil drilling (9.3%); and Offshore Safety and Environmental Enforcement (5.1%); see Table 1. By contrast, the Bureau of Land Management and the Oil Spill Research Program would each face cuts of at least 15%, and the U.S. Geological Survey’s budget would be heavily slashed. The Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service would see more modest cuts.

Table 1. Proposed Federal Budget for Selected Earth Science Programs Within the Department of the Interior for FY 2019a
2017 Enactedb 2019 President’s Budget Requestb Changeb Percentage Change
Bureau of Land Management 1,464 1,113 −351 −24.0
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management 118 129 11 9.3
Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement 103 132 29 28.2
Offshore Safety and Environmental Enforcement 114 119 6 5.1
Oil Spill Research 15 13 −2 −14.8
Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement 730 787 57 7.8
U.S. Geological Survey 1,085 860 −225 −20.7
Fish and Wildlife Service 2,935 2,792 −143 −4.9
National Park Service 3,551 3,519 −32 −0.9
Total, DOI 19,261 19,349 88 0.5

aSources: “Fiscal Year 2019: The Interior Budget in Brief”; Budget of the U.S. Government: An American Budget, Fiscal Year 2019; American Geophysical Union Public Affairs Department analysis.
bValues in millions of U.S. dollars, rounded to the nearest million.

DOE’s budget justification paints a picture similar to that of DOI, increasing research and development for fossil fuel technologies while decreasing programs that support environmental protection as well as research and development related to renewable energy sources. Within DOE’s Office of Science, whose overall budget remains nearly flat compared with FY 2017 levels, all line items would be modestly or severely defunded in order to support a massive budget increase for Advanced Scientific Computing Research (see Figure 1). The budget plans to decrease DOE’s energy programs by $1.889 billion (17%), which includes eliminating the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) and heavily cutting the departments’ programs in Nuclear Energy and in Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The only DOE energy program that would receive a boost is Fossil Energy Research and Development.

Percentage change in DOE science program allocations from FY 2017 enacted levels to FY 2019 budget request.
Fig. 1. Percentage change in DOE science program allocations from the FY 2017 enacted levels to the president’s FY 2019 budget request. Sources: “Department of Energy FY 2019 Congressional Budget Request: Budget in Brief”; Budget of the U.S. Government: An American Budget, Fiscal Year 2019; American Geophysical Union Public Affairs Department analysis.

“When I was first briefed on ‘highlights’ of President Trump’s budget request, I was incredulous at its treatment of our federal science agencies,” said Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) in a statement. Johnson, who is the ranking member on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, said that the cuts to energy and environmental programs show that “this administration has no appreciation for the role that these agencies play in driving the economy, keeping our nation competitive, and protecting the environment and public health.”

More Coal, but Not Clean

Nearly a year ago, President Trump declared that “we will produce American coal to power American industry” after he signed the Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth on 28 March 2017. In earlier remarks at that time, he also said, “We’re going to have clean coal—really clean coal.”

The proposed budgets for DOI, DOE Office of Science, and DOE energy programs work hand in hand to support the president’s focus on reviving America’s coal industry. In fact, within these three funding areas, surface coal mining is one of the few endeavors that would see budgetary increases.

Percentage change in selected DOE energy-related program allocations from FY 2017 enacted levels to FY 2019 budget request
Fig. 2. Percentage change in selected DOE energy-related program allocations from the FY 2017 enacted levels to the president’s FY 2019 budget request. Data with bold text and solid bars indicate departmental agency totals, and data with italic text and open bars indicate subagency programs. Sources: “Department of Energy FY 2019 Congressional Budget Request: Budget in Brief”; Budget of the U.S. Government: An American Budget, Fiscal Year 2019; American Geophysical Union Public Affairs Department analysis.

The requested $787 million (7.8%) increase for the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement within DOI is coupled with a proposed $12 million (32%) increase in Coal Research and Development funding in the DOE Energy program for the National Energy Technology Laboratory (see Figure 2). In that same program, the Advanced Energy Systems subprogram, whose “primary focus is on coal-based power systems” and which has the goal “to increase the availability, efficiency, and reliability of fossil energy power systems,” would receive an additional $58 million (50%) allocation.

However, by consolidating the “Carbon Capture” and “Carbon Storage” line items into one allocation for “Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage” and decreasing funding for the combined program by $156 million (80%), the president’s budget request removes a pillar of support within DOE from the “clean” part of the president’s coal ambition voiced last spring.

Offshore Oil and Natural Gas

The DOI and DOE budgets also provide increased support for offshore oil endeavors while simultaneously reducing funding for research into mitigating environmental impacts of oil drilling and making that energy cleaner to use.

DOI’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which oversees America’s offshore oil drilling efforts among other responsibilities, would receive an $11 million (9.3%) funding boost, and the related DOI Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which encompasses offshore efforts, would gain by $29 million (28%). Those same budget proposals call for a nearly 15% decrease for research into prevention and cleanup of oil spills and steep cuts to early-stage development of natural gas technologies and unconventional petroleum technologies.

Unclear Road Ahead for Renewable Energies

With regard to alternative energies, the administration’s FY 2019 DOE budget request slashes funding for research and development of clean, efficient, renewable energy sources (66% in total), including wind, bioenergy, solar, geothermal, water, hydrogen and fuel cell, and nuclear energies. This is in addition to the call to eliminate ARPA-E, which the administration also requested in its FY 2018 budget plan.

Currently, no appropriations hearings regarding DOI or DOE budgets for FY 2019 have been scheduled.

—Kimberly M. S. Cartier (@AstroKimCartier), News Writing and Production Intern

Citation: Cartier, K. M. S. (2018), Fossil energy sources win out in interior and energy budgets, Eos, 99, https://doi.org/10.1029/2018EO093869. Published on 27 February 2018.
Text © 2018. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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