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US Republicans Propose "Inexplicable" Cuts to Renewable Energy

The Republican House Majority has begun their opening salvo on budget cutting. And if done honestly and equitably, I would have nothing to write about. But here's the recent proposal of cuts in the proposed FY'2011 Budget Continuing Resolution (CR) for the US Department of Energy:

  • Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy   -$899 million
  • Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability   -$49 million
  • Nuclear Energy   -$169 million
  • Fossil Energy Research   -$31 million
  • Clean Coal Technology   -$18 million

Some of the shenanigans around the CR entailed introducing nuisance amendments such as the one by Representative  Tom McClintock (R-CA,4) Amendment (No. 318) to H.R. 1:

At the end of the bill (before the short title) insert the following new section: SEC. 4002. None of the funds provided by this Act under the heading "Department of Energy, Energy Programs, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy" shall be available for "Water Power". This Amendment would strip $50 million from the Department of Energy’s Water Power Program, and reduce funding in the Continuing Resolution for FY 2011 to zero.

One bright spot was Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), who is Chairman of the Tactical Air and Land Forces (TALF) Subcommitee of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC).  Bartlett spoke on February 15, 2011 in opposition to Amendment #86 offered by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS, 4th) that would have eliminated $115 million of the Department of Defense’s alternative energy research.  Pompeo had cited a widely criticized RAND study that concluded the programs had no military value.

The amendment was offered to H.R. 1, the Continuing Resolution (CR) for funding the remaining seven months of Fiscal Year 2011. The amendment was defeated by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 319 to 110. Republicans voted 135 to 105 against the amendment. Democrats voted 184 to 5 against the amendment.

The lopsided attacks on the energy efficiency and renewable energy budgets are no surprise. The Republican Majority’s view is that if President Obama supports these expenditures, they should be viewed as bad investments. So the attacks are in part symbolic and root back to the boisterous calls of “drill baby drill” at the Republican Convention.

At a G-20 meeting of industrialized countries held in Pittsburgh in November 2009, world leaders committed to phase out, over the medium-term, fossil fuel subsidies that encouraged wasteful consumption. A G20 follow-up meeting in Seoul also pushed for progress on the goal. "Eradicating subsidies to fossil fuels would enhance energy security, reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollution, and bring economic benefits," said the IEA, the energy watchdog to 28 industrialized countries, in its annual World Energy Outlook. The report estimated such subsidies at $312 billion in 2009, mostly in developing countries, compared with $57 billion in subsidies for renewable energy.

President Obama has recently called for a similar action for U.S. fossil fuel subsidies. For decades, tax breaks and federal incentives have been a boon to the U.S. fossil fuels industry. Numbers compiled by the Environmental Law Institute reveal that those figures totaled $72 billion between 2002 and 2008—about $10 billion annually. Figures from the Washington-based nonprofit Oil Change International, put annual U.S. subsidies of these mature technologies somewhere between $6 billion and $39 billion annually, depending on what is included in the count.

The oil industry and its supporters within Congress from both political parties parrot the view of Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, who labels talks of withdrawing subsidies as a “tax increase on the oil and natural gas industry that would raise energy costs and kill jobs.”

The sound bite that somehow removing billions of dollars of taxpayer-funded subsidies is a tax increase boggles my mind. But this verbal slight of hand confuses the public, which the oil, coal and nuclear industries believe will give them political maneuvering room.

So the House Republican leadership’s budget proposes $220 million in cuts for fossil and nuclear research and development and $900 million in cuts for energy efficiency and renewable energy research and development. Cutting fossil fuels subsidies, in their view is a tax increase, and their push is to just remove obstacles to ‘drill baby drill’.

In my speeches, I always quote a columnist David Broder who wrote in an article years ago that, “Washington is the steering wheel of the nation …..  not connected to anything” as a good explanation for these inexplicable political acts of fantasy.

I now think that actually I was wrong.  These political people are connected … to money. And looking at the recent campaign contributions, the conventional energy industries were some of the largest givers, and now it’s payback time.

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