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Cutting Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy Programs the Last Thing We Should be Doing

2 min. read

Whatever your views on the U.S. budget deficit and how to fix it, I think we can all agree that the source of this deficit is not the miniscule share of federal spending allocated towards energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.   How much money are we talking about?  Click here for the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE)'s budgets over the past 10 years. What you'll see is that, with the exception of one-time federal "stimulus" spending, EERE's budget has basically stayed in the $1-$2 billion per year range, less than one-thousandth total U.S. federal spending of more than $3 trillion per year. The point is, even if you eliminated every penny spent on energy efficiency and renewable energy research, development, etc., it would have essentially no impact whatsoever on the federal budget or budget deficit.

Of course, if energy efficiency and renewable energy research and development spending weren't effective, it might make sense to cut it regardless of budgetary considerations. But that isn't the case it all. To the contrary, this investment is, and has been, highly effective. For instance, this press release notes that "U.S. Department of Energy researchers have won 36 of the 100 awards given out this year by R&D Magazine for the most outstanding technology developments with promising commercial potential." In addition, "Since 1962, when R&D Magazine’s annual competition began, DOE national laboratories have been the recipient of over 800 R&D 100 awards in areas such as energy, national security and basic scientific applications."  Given this track record of success, why would we want to cut this R&D, especially when there's a pressing need for a clean energy revolution, and when other countries are racing ahead in their efforts to grab market share in this large and rapidly growing industry?  Short answer: it's basically the last thing we  should be doing.

That's why we were exasperated to read this article, about how friends of the fossil fuel industry in Congress, in the context of the debate over the budget deficit, are attempting to gut energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, supposedly because they represent "wasteful meddling in the marketplace that should be scrapped." As we know, far from being wasteful, this is exactly the type of investment we need to be doing as a country, given the pressing need for a clean energy transition.

As for "meddling in the marketplace," just keep in mind that the people advocating for cuts in clean energy funding are the same fossil fuel folks who have been happily receiving taxpayer-funded corporate welfare checks for decades, if not longer.  Now, they're attempting to use the U.S. budget deficit as a reason to take an axe to federal support for clean energy, while maintaining the enormous subsidies (implicit and explicit) that flow to the fossil fuel industries.  In sum, this is simply the latest of numerous twists and turns in fossil fuel interests' ongoing attempts to justify their corporate welfare gravy train. Simultaneously, those same interests are hoping to stymie a major competitive threat - clean energy - facing their entrenched, enormously profitable industry. Pretty clever, huh?