The administration’s proposal to zero out funding for ENERGY STAR® has drawn a lot of buzz. While preserving ENERGY STAR is vital for energy efficiency in many ways, it’s only one among many important efficiency programs on the chopping block. The full budget has not been released yet, and Congress certainly won’t approve it in its current form, but House Republicans are eager to reduce funding for many of these programs. The threat of deep cuts is real.
Here are some of the other programs that could be gutted under the budget and who would be harmed by the cuts. Most of these cuts are proposed for 2018, but I also note some proposals for 2017.
Consumers: This "skinny" budget does not specify numbers for most energy efficiency programs but proposes massive cuts that will have to come from somewhere. It proposes that the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Office (EERE) be cut by $516 million this year, about a quarter of its total budget with only half the year left. In 2018 the EERE, Electricity, Nuclear, and Fossil Energy offices would be cut by roughly $2 billion—about half of their combined budgets. That cut will likely be taken from programs like Building Technologies, which has helped the average consumer save almost $500 a year in energy costs through appliance standards and research. The program also helps homeowners understand their energy use with the Home Energy Score. WaterSense, a consumer information program similar to ENERGY STAR labels that addresses water use, is at the Environmental Protection Agency, which would be cut overall by 31%.
Businesses and workers: Along with Building Technologies, the Advanced Manufacturing and Vehicle Technologies programs (also subject to the overall EERE cuts) help American businesses reduce their energy costs and develop new products and markets, improving competitiveness and creating jobs. For example, the Industrial Assessment Centers train college students to do energy reviews for small and medium-size manufacturers, providing both workforce development and assistance in reducing costs.
The SuperTruck Program helps drive investment in developing fuel efficiency technologies for heavy trucks, keeping domestic manufacturers in the vanguard worldwide. DOE has been instrumental in sustaining the vehicle battery research and development effort that is now on the cusp of delivering batteries that will make plug-in vehicles competitive with gasoline-powered vehicles. SmartWay, an effective voluntary program to help freight companies reduce fuel use, could be subject to the overall EPA cuts.
Rural areas: Businesses and consumers in rural areas would be hit especially hard. The budget would cut the Department of Agriculture's Rural Development budget and zero out funding (other than what is mandated in the farm bill) for the Rural Business Cooperative Service, which provides financing for economic development, including energy efficiency, to rural small businesses. It would also eliminate the Treasury Department’s Community Development Financial Institutions grants, which help rural electric co-ops finance energy efficiency and other initiatives for their members.
Low-income families: DOE’s Weatherization Assistance Program provides more than 100,000 home energy upgrades for low-income families each year, helping them afford their energy bills, making their homes healthier, and providing thousands of skilled construction jobs. The budget would zero out this $215 million program. States allocate more money for weatherization out of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program ($307 million in 2014), which the budget would also eliminate.
In addition, proposed cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development would hit energy-efficient affordable housing and increase cost burdens of families already struggling to make ends meet. The budget would end HOME Investment Partnerships program grants and Community Development Block Grants (after cutting the latter in half this year), two programs that help low-income families afford energy-efficient homes. Overall HUD funding would decrease by 13% or $6.2 billion.
States: The budget would end the State Energy Program (SEP), which provides critical support for state energy policy. SEP distributes $50 million in funding for energy offices in every state for energy efficiency,renewable energy, and energy emergency plans (yes, they would cut an emergency management program). This is the primary funding source for energy management in some state governments.
Infrastructure and commuters: The budget would immediately terminate Department of Transportation funding for public transit "New Starts" ($2.2 billion) and competitive TIGER grants for innovative transportation projects ($500 million), except for existing fully funded New Starts agreements. This would stop job-creating infrastructure projects, limit transportation options, and increase traffic for commuters, whose use of public transit has been growing.
Innovators: In addition to cuts in research programs at EERE, the budget would cut in half and then close down the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which sponsors research to solve major clean energy challenges, such as new kinds of batteries, air conditioners, and metals processing.
Virtually every energy efficiency program in the federal government would likely be affected if this budget were enacted. I have not even touched on programs at the General Services Administration, Department of Defense, State Department, Small Business Administration, and others.
We are only at the start of the budget process. In April Congress must deal with the remainder of fiscal year 2017. Then the administration is expected to release a detailed budget proposal and Congress will begin considering appropriations bills for 2018. So far, the congressional reception for the budget has not been enthusiastic. Nonetheless, in this political environment, significant cuts are likely.
If you are concerned about possible cuts, please share your stories of what will be lost if this budget is enacted, and contact us about how you can help. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.