Budget Cuts
Axing ARPA-E Is a Mistake

The White House released an outline of its proposed budget for the next fiscal year, and it’s perhaps best described as a bloodbath for federal green programs. The Environmental Protection Agency alone is seeing a 31 percent reduction in its budget, down from $8.2 billion in 2017 to $5.7 in 2018, with climate-related projects being the primary focus of the scythe.

This doesn’t come as a shock, and it exposes just how impermanent Obama’s environmental policies were. By circumventing Congress to enact his Clean Power Plan and most of his other green initiatives, the former president left behind a rickety green legacy, and with this proposed budget, Trump is showing just how easy it will be to dismantle those “victories.”

But there are some important programs in here that shouldn’t be treated as political footballs. The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) is a relatively small agency devoted to researching energy moonshots—the sorts of technological solutions we’re going to need to solve the pressing problems of sustainably developing over the coming decades. Trump’s budget proposes eliminating ARPA-E, as Quartz reports:

By eliminating ARPA-E and making deep cuts to the Department of Energy’s science funding, the president’s “skinny” budget would cripple our ability to discover and develop new energy technologies, while forfeiting leadership in the energy economy to China, Germany, and other nations that are investing in energy research and development.

ARPA-E is one of those rare examples of smart green spending. It’s led to “huge strides” in energy storage technologies that might solve renewables’ intermittency problem. If you’re still not convinced, read these two essays published in our pages years ago.

The good news, if there’s any to be found on this decision to de-fund these federal science programs, is that initiatives like ARPA-E have bipartisan support in Congress, and are therefore likely to be able to resist (to a degree) this new pressure from the Trump administration.

The United States was able to remake its entire energy landscape in less than a decade thanks to the dual deployment of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal well drilling. Those technologies were developed by private companies in tandem with federal researchers—fracking itself was pioneered by the Department of Energy in the 1970’s. This variety of government support—backing the research and development of next-gen technologies—can prove to be extremely valuable, and there’s an opportunity cost in axing it.

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