Republicans in the House of Representatives quietly passed 13 provisions last week that would choke off Energy Department financing for existing clean energy and efficiency programs.
The House adopted the amendments on June 6 as part of its 2013 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill. The proposed cuts reflect a broader trend. As the Tea Party reshapes the GOP, opposition to policies that reduce climate-changing gases and stoke the clean energy economy is soaring.
More than half of the targeted DOE programs were started under Pres. George W. Bush, while some go back decades. They range from wind technology supports to mandates for zero-carbon buildings, LED light bulbs and electric golf carts (and, of course, the controversial program behind the Solyndra loan).
Overall, the House energy bill would give $32.1 billion to energy and water programs, a cut of about $1 billion from Obama's budget request. It would also shift more dollars to fossil-fuel programs. Research and development of "clean" coal, oil and natural gas technologies, for instance, would get a 60 percent boost from last year's level to $554 million.
The Democratic-led Senate hasn't passed its energy spending bill yet, but it's unlikely to include the same "ideological" amendments, said Jim DiPeso, policy director for ConservAmerica, a nonprofit formerly called Republicans for the Environment. "The House and Senate just don't see eye-to-eye on a lot of things."
Still, the chambers must hash out a compromise before the 2012 budget expires on Sept. 30, and some riders may survive, though they could be largely symbolic. Manufacturers are already introducing energy-efficient goods, DiPeso said, and the loan program can't back any new Solyndras; it expired last year.
Joshua Freed, vice president for clean energy at Third Way, a moderate think tank, offered a more sobering view: The provisions send "a very bad signal that [the private sector] can't count on the government to set consistent policy ... and that there is outright hostility among some on the Republican side toward" the clean economy.
The 13 amendments target the following programs:
1. National initiative to boost wind power. Created back in 1999 by the DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), the Wind Powering America initiative provides funding and technical support for R&D and deployment of wind technologies. Its goal is to get at least 5 percent of U.S. power from turbines by 2020. (The country's at about 3 percent today.) The amendment would cut off all funding for the program. Sponsor: Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)
2. Federal rule for zero-carbon buildings. Section 433 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, a sweeping energy policy signed by Bush, requires all new and renovated federal buildings to zero out fossil-fuel use by 2030. In 2010, the DOE proposed rules to implement the Fossil Fuel-Generated Energy Consumption Reduction mandate. The House amendment, backed by the natural gas industry, would bar the DOE from spending money to wrap up the rulemaking process. Sponsor: Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-La.)
3. Federal ban on high-carbon fuels. Section 526 of the Bush-era energy act stipulates that the Department of Defense and other federal agencies can't buy fuel from high-carbon sources like oil sands, oil shale or coal-to-liquids. This measure would ban the DOE from enforcing the rule. Sponsor: Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas)
4. U.S. clean energy initiatives in other countries. The EERE's international program partners with global leaders and organizations to develop renewable energy and efficiency measures mainly in poorer countries. This amendment cuts off funds for the program, and it cites Obama's plan to spend $600,000 to help China and India build sustainable cities as the leading reason. Sponsor: Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.)
5. Title 17 loan guarantee program. Created by Bush's Energy Policy Act of 2005, the Title 17 Innovative Technology Loan Guarantee Program gives loans to cutting-edge renewable energy, "clean" coal, nuclear power and advanced vehicle manufacturing projects. The idea was to allay investors' fears by guaranteeing that the government would cover some losses if the company flops.
Under the 2009 stimulus, Obama created a temporary Section 1705 loan guarantee program within the broader Title 17 initiative. The newer program specifically targeted high-risk renewable energy technologies.