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Congress Agrees to Strong Funding for Clean Energy

For the first time in nine years, Congress has come together to pass a full year of funding for energy and water priorities on time. The package of funding bills, which also includes Legislative Branch and Military-Construction and Veterans Affairs, passed the House and the Senate by an overwhelming majority and is now headed for President Trump’s desk. While we expect the president to sign it, the package is a clear rejection of this administration's proposal and is packed with funding for clean energy programs that the president had wanted to slash.

The bill allocates federal dollars to programs and initiatives that will benefit universities, businesses and every American across the country. This year’s final bill makes it clear that clean energy research and development (R&D) is a top-notch investment and the federal government needs to lead. By allocating strong federal funding for clean energy R&D, energy efficiency and state energy programs, as well as avoiding any new poison pill amendments that undermine the environment and public health, Congress has voted to continue along a job-creating, money saving, air-clearing and climate-stabilizing path toward a cleaner energy future. And for that we should all be saying “thank you!”

The clean energy innovation programs at the Department of Energy (DOE) have been enormously successful and a solid taxpayer investment. Thanks to the leadership of House and Senate appropriators, including Senators Alexander and Feinstein, Congressman Simpson and Congresswoman Kaptur these successes will continue. When Congress appropriates funds to clean energy R&D, the world’s leading researchers compete to innovate making existing technologies better, increase access and affordability and quietly chart the course for our nation’s energy future. 

Federal funding for clean energy research has been a major driver of the clean energy revolution that is sweeping across the country. Consistent, thoughtful federal investment in clean energy R&D has helped lower the cost of clean energy technologies between 55 and 94 percent since 2008. Such funding has helped scientists figure out how to make wind turbines 49 percent taller and capture more high-speed winds. It’s helped move solar panels from calculators to the roofs of 9 million homes, and counting. It’s helped put nearly 450 million LED light bulbs into sockets across the country, up from 400,000 in 2009, and get more than 750,000 electric vehicles on the road.

While President Trump’s energy budget proposed gutting the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Congress passed a slight increase over last year, to $2.379 billion. This includes increased funding for efforts to make buildings more energy efficient nationwide and for the Weatherization Assistance Program, which helps low-income consumers save money on bills by sealing up drafts and making other energy efficiency improvements to homes. Buildings are the single largest source of electricity consumption in the country — responsible for 75 percent of US electric consumption —  so making them more energy efficient is vital to efforts to cut carbon pollution and reduce electric bills for consumers.

Funding for the DOE’s Office of Science, which supports research at America’s elite national laboratories, also increased about 5 percent. And the Advanced Researched Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), an innovation hub that helps move promising ideas out of basic research into commercial development —such as a cost-saving process to manufacture solar panels domestically— also got a boost instead of being eliminated altogether.

Passage of this bill was not simple or easy. It required commitment by both Republicans and Democrats to intense and often contentious negotiations. It required commitments like those Senators Shelby and Leahy agree to early on, to pursue “regular order” and to keep out poison pill riders. And because of this persistent leadership, the outcome speaks volumes about the support for clean energy across America, across geographic and political divides. Despite the Trump administration’s attempts to derail progress, the clean energy revolution will not be denied. Congress is keeping America on the path to a clean energy future.

Republished with permission from the Natural Resources Defense Council's expert blogs.

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