Friday, May 26, 2017

Looking for Trump’s Climate Policy?  Try the Energy Department - The New York Times

Iowa farmland. Historically, the Energy Department has nurtured innovation in the search for new power sources. Now that is in question. (Credit: Dave Kettering/Telegraph Herald, via Associated Press) Click to Enlarge.
The Trump administration’s deepest impact on domestic climate policy might have little to do with its efforts to dismantle the Clean Power Plan or its decision on the Paris accord.

Instead, the coming battle over the future of the Energy Department could prove far more significant for the United States’ long-term efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Among energy experts, there is broad agreement that the world still needs major technological advances to halt global warming, like better batteries to integrate larger shares of solar and wind power into the grid, or carbon capture to curb pollution from cement plants.

Historically, the Energy Department has nurtured these kinds of innovations, conducting basic research in its network of 17 national laboratories and aiding private firms struggling to bring risky technologies to market.  But those efforts would be drastically scaled back under President Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget proposal, released on Tuesday, which proposes to cut the agency’s energy programs by $3.1 billion, or 18 percent below last year’s levels.

The agency’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which has helped nudge down the cost of solar power, faces a 69 percent cut.  The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, a program that funds research into long-shot energy technologies, like algae biofuels or advanced batteries, would face elimination.  And, despite Mr. Trump’s stated desire to promote “clean coal,” the Office of Fossil Energy, which invests in techniques to scrub carbon dioxide from coal plants and bury it underground, faces an 85 percent cut to its carbon-capture efforts.

Even if members of Congress, who have indicated they will resist many of these changes, shield the agency from cuts, observers worry about the broader effects of an administration skeptical of federal energy research.  Political appointees can still thwart approval of new programs internally — and already appear to be doing so.  Uncertainty over funding could disrupt plans for research at the national labs.  Many career staff members are now contemplating leaving, raising fears of a talent drain.

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