Trump Administration Illegally Withholds Funding from Key Energy Research Program
What Happened: The Department of Energy withheld almost $100 million of appropriated funds from the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). The Agency funds high-risk energy research projects that have the potential to yield high rewards.
Why it Matters: In the past, ARPA-E has awarded hundreds of millions of dollars to researchers exploring alternative energy and improvements to the efficiency of existing energy technologies. Withholding funds appropriated to ARPA-E not only stifles this innovative research, but also violates the Impoundment Control Act of 1974 designed to stop a president from defunding programs he opposes.
A December 2017 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the Trump Administration’s Department of Energy (DOE) illegally impounded $91 million in funding from the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). The detainment of these funds came after the White House called for the elimination of ARPA-E entirely in its version of the FY2018 federal budget, alleging that the Agency’s mission is better suited for the private sector. Contrary to this claim, ARPA-E has already made significant advances in crucial areas where private industries have failed, such as in the production of next generation batteries. House Republicans similarly defunded the Agency in their version of the FY2018 appropriations bill.
The $91 million in funding had already been allocated to ARPA-E so withholding this money was illegal under the Impoundment Control Act of 1974. The GAO report states that according to the Act, “agencies may only withhold budget authority from obligation if the President has transmitted a special message to Congress”, a provision designed to help prevent administrations from defunding programs or offices they oppose. Lawmakers too expressed concern that the President’s actions explicitly violated this law, a conclusion ultimately supported by the GAO report. The DOE released the entirety of ARPE-E’s funds shortly before the GAO made its findings public.
ARPA-E was created by the George W. Bush Administration in 2007 to support innovative research and development to improve the United States’ global completeness. Under the Obama Administration, ARPA-E awarded nearly $550 million in funding to various high-risk projects with the potential to transform the energy landscape, primarily in the areas of renewable energy, electrofuels, and battery storage capacity.
The Trump Administration’s illegal failure to provide funds to an agency dedicated to transformational energy research is just one part of a larger attempt by the administration to stifle renewable energy development and adoption. The Department of Energy’s FY2018 budget justification cuts funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy by nearly 70 percent. In late October 2017, the U.S. International Trade Commission recommended a tariff on imported solar panel equipment, making them prohibitively expensive. And in the same month, Scott Pruitt’s EPA moved to abolish the EPA Clean Power Plan, which would have accelerated the renewable energy use.