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Trump sticks to past calls to slash EPA budget, DOE research spending

In his fiscal year 2021 budget request to the U.S. Congress, U.S. President Donald Trump again called to slash spending for federal agencies overseeing the energy sector.

The proposal is largely symbolic, however, with Congress ultimately responsible for drafting and passing appropriations bills to fund the federal government. And with an election coming up in November, Congress may hold off on approving spending legislation for the full 2021 fiscal year that starts in September until the outcome of that race is known.

Energy Department

The president requested $35.4 billion for the U.S. Department of Energy, down 8.1% from the 2020 enacted level of $38.5 billion, according to a 138-page summary of the fiscal year 2021 budget released Feb. 10.

Trump again called to eliminate the DOE's Title 17 innovative technology loan guarantee and the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy, known as ARPA-E, programs that Congress has defended with bipartisan support in recent appropriations bills. He also repeated a push to sell federally owned and operated electricity assets, a move that the budget estimated would save taxpayers $4.1 billion over 10 years.

The budget proposed to divest the transmission assets held by the Tennessee Valley Authority and three federal power marketing administrations, or PMAs: the Southwestern Power Administration, Western Area Power Administration and the Bonneville Power Administration. Public power groups were quick to protest the proposal, which Congress has also repeatedly rejected.

"The partnerships between the PMAs, TVA, and the public power communities they serve with affordable and reliable power is an American success story that continues to work today," said Joy Ditto, president and CEO of the American Public Power Association. "Proposals like the ones included in this budget request are solutions in search of problems."

Furthermore, the budget would cut funding for the DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy to $720 million from the $2.79 billion Congress approved for fiscal year 2020. The Office of Fossil Energy Research and Development would get $731 million, including $546 million for coal energy carbon capture, utilization and storage systems, compared with $750 million enacted for fiscal year 2020.

A total of $1.3 billion would go to the Office of Nuclear Energy, including $295 million for a versatile advanced test reactor project and $150 million to establish a domestic uranium reserve. That total is down from the combined fiscal year 2020 funding for the office of $1.49 billion.

Despite those proposed cuts, the DOE's Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response, known as CESER, would get a spending increase to $185 million under Trump's budget, which would surpass the prior year's appropriations of $156 million.

The White House excluded prior proposals to provide money to restart licensing of the stalled Yucca Mountain long-term nuclear waste repository in Nevada. But it said the standstill over a national nuclear waste storage policy "has gone on too long" and the Trump administration "is initiating processes to develop alternative solutions and engaging states in developing an actionable path forward."

At the same time, the budget will provide funding for a "robust interim storage program" and research and development of alternative technologies for the storage, transportation and disposal of U.S. nuclear waste, "with a focus on systems deployable where there is a willingness to host," the summary said.

EPA

In line with his past budget proposals, Trump suggested deep cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's budget. While less than a 31% proposed cut from a year ago, the administration is still seeking a $2.4 billion reduction, or 26% cut, in the EPA's overall budget appropriated by Congress for fiscal year 2020.

The White House said the proposed budget "promotes stewardship of taxpayer resources by reducing wasteful spending on duplicative programs and ensuring that grants are targeted effectively."

On its website, the EPA said the proposed budget "maintains core environmental protection with respect to statutory and regulatory obligations, and provides the direction and resources to advance the core mission of protecting human health and the environment."

However, the Environmental Protection Network, an advocacy group composed of EPA alumni, noted that the budget proposes a 28% cut in state grant funding, including a 44% cut in funds to help states operate their environmental programs. States depend on federal funding for roughly 25% of their environmental budgets. The group also said the budget blueprint "virtually eliminates" the EPA's climate programs despite mounting evidence that global warming is contributing to devastating wildfires and massive flooding in the U.S. and abroad.

Interior

The 2021 budget requests $12.7 billion for the U.S. Department of the Interior, a 16% decrease from the 2020 enacted level. The proposal "prioritizes funding for DOI programs that support the safe and responsible development of energy on public lands and offshore waters," while prioritizing money for forest management programs to reduce wildfire risks on federal lands, the budget summary said.

The proposal includes $796.1 million for energy development programs for oil, gas, coal and renewable energy, including related oversight and inspection programs, Interior said in a news release.

The agency's Bureau of Land Management, which oversees energy production on federal lands, would receive $1.24 billion in fiscal year 2021 compared with prior-year enacted levels of $1.38 billion. Within that total, the BLM's coal management program would get $18.9 million, a $3 million year-over-year increase intended "to improve capacity for leasing, permitting, inspections, and fair market value assessments," Interior said.

For fiscal year 2021, Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, or BOEM, would get $188.8 million, down from $191.6 million enacted for fiscal year 2020. In its news release, Interior said the BOEM's budget would continue to implement an executive order from Trump that requires the bureau to develop and implement a new National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program. But in a separate budget document, the BOEM said the development of a new national outer continental shelf program for 2019-2024 was "on hold" following a U.S. district court decision that struck down Trump's order to lift an Obama-era ban on drilling in the Arctic Ocean.

Congress has typically pushed back on Trump's calls to slash the EPA's budget and curtail funding for DOE research efforts, even more so since Democrats regained control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections. Those old divisions look likely to resurface again with Trump's 2021 budget request.

"The president's latest budget is a disastrous repeat of the misplaced priorities and callous cuts he has pursued unsuccessfully in past requests," House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said. "It is unfortunate that instead of using his budget to build on the historic investments in last year's budget deal, the president doubled down on partisan talking points that have no chance of becoming law."