President Trump has submitted his proposed 2020 budget to Congress and as Electrek reported, “it includes reductions in funding for the EPA and NOAA. It also proposes to eliminate ARPA-E, an agency focused on researching and developing future energy technology.” Not only would the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (EERE) receive a significant reduction in funding ($696 of the current approximate $2.4 billion) but the Trump budget proposes to eliminate Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), DOE’s incubator of new technologies, which helps develop “high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that are too early for private-sector investment.”
As the Bipartisan Policy Center explained, ARPA-E was modeled on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. DARPA was created in 1958 as a response to the Soviet Union’s launch of the world’s first satellite – Sputnik 1. DARPA’s work revolutionized technology, and included the creation of the Internet, GPS, cloud computing and stealth technology. After decades of volatility in domestic energy prices, ARPA-E was created to address America’s long-term energy challenges and ensure our technological preeminence in energy by following the DARPA model.
- ARPA-E’s approach has focused on identifying off-roadmap, “white space” research, i.e., research that isn’t being pursued anywhere else.
- Like DARPA, ARPA-E recruits top talent from across the energy space to identify and utilize unique approaches to solve difficult problems. These program directors utilize a workshop process to refine the scope of the programs they pursue. Like a “shark tank” for identifying important research, program directors have to convince not just the agency, but also a multi-disciplinary team of scientists that they’ve identified a problem worth solving.
- Empowering program directors in this way – while requiring them to demonstrate that a topic is worth exploring – ensures that instead of a top-down, centrally planned research program, ARPA-E has the flexibility to pursue research targets of opportunity that would be more difficult under traditional institutional arrangements. (Read more about its successes here)
Additionally, as the Washington Post explained, many other government agencies tasked with research would suffer as well. NIH would face a roughly $4.5 billion budget cut, according to an HHS document. Among the big losers, if Congress were to sign off on the budget request, would be the National Cancer Institute, dropping from $6.1 billion to $5.2 billion, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, going from $5.5 billion to $4.75 billion. There’s a major incongruity here as, during his State of the Union address last month, Trump vowed to expand funding for cancer research.
Why This Matters: President Trump has proposed to eliminate funding for renewable energy research in his past two budgets despite the fact that Congress went on to fund ARPA-E and they’re expected to do so again with this budget (here’s how the U.S. budget process works in case you need a refresher). Even if the President’s budget is a symbolic gesture to the fossil fuels industry, it’s short-sighted that our commander in chief doesn’t believe that American research and ingenuity are part of what makes our nation great. Meanwhile, China is rapidly developing its renewable energy technology to replace dependence on fossil fuels and ensure that they are the worldwide leader on clean energy. The world is headed toward a green energy economy and the United States can either own the intellectual property of the future or be dependent on technology developed by other nations.