The Trump administration’s just-released federal budget proposal took a sledgehammer to our nation’s energy efficiency and clean energy programs. Funding for the extremely popular and impactful ENERGY STAR program was zeroed out. Ditto for the weatherization programs that help low-income families stay warm during the winter and pay lower utility bills. On top of that, the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) program at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) that has helped create millions of jobs and cut our energy bills would have its budget cut by a whopping 70 percent.
It’s hard to understand why the Trump administration has declared war on energy efficiency, the easiest, cheapest way to drive down costs for Americans. Trump says he wants to be a job creator – so why is he trying to kill energy efficiency that’s led to the creation of 2.2 million U.S. jobs today?
Let’s hope the overall proposed “starvation” budget is dead on arrival and that there is still time to restore funding for energy efficiency programs as Congress takes the next steps in the process and shapes the final budget for Fiscal Year 2018, which begins Oct. 1.
Why does it matter? Because energy efficiency programs help reduce our nation’s energy use and consumers’ and companies’ utility bills, avoid toxic pollution, drive innovation, and create domestic jobs. Given that power plants are America’s second-biggest source of harmful carbon dioxide emissions, anything we can do to reduce electricity use helps reduce climate change. Below is a quick summary of some of the federal energy efficiency programs under attack and what’s at stake.
One of the most successful public-private partnerships of all time is the EPA’s ENERGY STAR labeling program established under President George H. Bush. It is a voluntary program that promotes products meeting energy efficiency requirements set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—usually among the top 25 percent most-efficient appliances and equipment on the market. This program saved businesses and consumers $34 billion off their utility bills in 2015, alone, and only costs around $50 million per year to operate. You’d be hard-pressed to find a comparable rate of return for any government or private sector program.
The program is so successful because of its simplicity—just look for the blue and white ENERGY STAR label and you know you are buying one of the more efficient models on the market. Consumers love the program, but so do retailers, manufacturers, builders and utilities nationwide – so much so that over a thousand companies and organizations recently signed a letter asking Congress to preserve the program and its budget. Given the trust consumers have for the program and its great track record, it would be a huge mistake to “privatize” this program as some have suggested. The last thing American consumers need is to hand the keys over to the manufacturers—or their trade associations—and have them set the rules and run the program. Meanwhile, funding for the EPA’s Water Sense program, a similar labeling program designed to direct consumers to more water efficient products, also was proposed for elimination in the Trump budget plan.
Energy Efficiency Standards
Just like we have minimum fuel efficiency standards for cars, the U.S. Department of Energy issues commonsense minimum efficiency standards for consumer electronics, appliances, and equipment we use in our homes, businesses, and industrial settings. Consumers are big beneficiaries of these standards as they save more than $500 per year on their household utility bills, alone. Efficiency standards have a long history of bipartisan support and have delivered approximately $2 trillion in net benefits since the program was started under President Reagan. But the Trump budget proposal slashes the EERE program, where the standards program is housed, by a whopping 70 percent. With that kind of draconian cut, it’s hard to imagine how DOE staff could properly update energy efficiency standards as they are required by law—or to enforce the ones that are in effect. And who will be the big losers? Consumers who can’t tell from looking at an appliance or piece of equipment whether it’s going to gobble energy—and cause their utility bills to rise.
Low-Income Weatherization Programs
Low-income families are the least able to pay their utility bills or to afford energy efficiency retrofits. The federal weatherization program delivered grants to states to fund efficiency upgrades for many low-income customers—things like installing insulation and new furnaces to make their homes more comfortable and reduce energy bills. The proposed Trump budget eliminates all funding for this critical program.
Research and Development
DOE has been managing a cutting-edge research program called ARPA-E, the Advanced Research Project Agency, for energy. It funds early-stage research and some of its most recent projects include: improving the energy efficiency of big data centers, developing next-generation retrofit kits for single paned windows that offer a much cheaper alternative to replacing the entire window, and bringing down the cost of home battery storage systems that allow consumers to power their homes at night with the energy generated from their solar panels during the day. Sadly, this program—which is an incubator of good ideas, advanced technology, future energy savings, and new jobs—would be eliminated too.
These are just a few of the federally funded energy efficiency programs and initiatives that affect all of us and have helped cut our bills and pollution while creating jobs at home and making the United States a global clean energy and technology leader. The Trump administration’s proposed budget is a train wreck for the clean energy economy. Now it’s up to Congress to get things back on the right track.
A previous version of this post appeared here.