2 August 2017

FY2018 Spending Bill Passes House, Delivering Steep Cuts to the Department of Energy

Posted by Chris McEntee

President Trump campaigned as a proponent of technological innovation and development. Yet his proposed fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget slashes funding for research programs at the Department of Energy (DOE). Congress isn’t bound to follow the President’s proposed budget, but last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the FY2018 Energy and Water Appropriations bill, in which they reduced the overall DOE budget by 9.5% below FY2017 levels and eliminated an advanced energy research program known as ARPA-E. The consequences of this shortsighted decision would be dramatic if enacted, crippling the federal investment in scientific research, engineering, and technology development that has been critical in driving economic growth, providing for our national defense, and maintaining global competitiveness.

As the first science spending bill that the House has passed, it was discouraging to see a lack of support for cutting edge energy research. The U.S. Senate has also drafted their version of the Energy and Water Appropriations bill, which provides much more robust support for research at DOE, but has not passed their bill.

There is some nuance to energy funding in the House bill – the overall DOE Office of Science – which is the largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences, supporting research in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, at DOE labs and at more than 300 universities and institutions of higher learning – received flat funding and some programs even saw increases, such as the Advanced Computing Science Research program.

But many programs received debilitating cuts. The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E),which champions new advances that generate, store, and use energy that are too early for private-sector investment, was completely zeroed out. Since 2009, investment in ARPA-E has resulted in the development of hundreds of clean energy research projects including carbon capture, biofuels, fuel efficiency, and more. Much like the federal space program, many of these projects shift into the private sector where they drive investment and new company formation. If this budget were to become law, the U.S. would no longer be at the vanguard of nations cultivating next generation energy projects and technologies.

The Senate version of the bill that is still in the works, by contrast, increases funding for the DOE Office of Science and ARPA-E by nearly 3% and 8% respectively over FY2017 levels. Ultimately, the differences in the House and Senate bills must be worked out before a final appropriations bill would be passed – but anything can happen in that process.

That’s why it’s important that the members of Congress who will be making these and other final decisions on science spending need to hear that federal funding for scientific research and technology development is vital.

There are a number of ways that you, as a scientist, can help!  One incredibly powerful thing you can do is to meet directly with your member of Congress and Senators when they are back home – as they will be until September and again during weekly and monthly breaks.  It might seem intimidating to ask for and hold such a meeting – but it’s easy!  And AGU is here to help you by providing tools and resources on everything from how to set up a meeting to what to say when you get there. Just visit our District Days page for all the information you need.

Investments at this level will help to fortify America’s leadership in energy research and development and support cutting-edge technology to transform our nation’s energy landscape.

If you cannot have an in-person meeting with your legislator, you can still make the case through calls and emails.  Contact your legislators to communicate the value of Earth and space science, including research programs at the Department of Energy.

Help amplify AGU’s promotion of Earth and space funding by sending the message that American innovation and progress requires equally strong investment.