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FY 2009 Budget Request Means Big Cuts for Efficiency, Renewables

The total FY 2009 request for the Energy Department's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy is a 27 percent cut from the FY 2008 level. Nuclear and "clean coal" are obvious priorities for the Administration, with increased budget proposals for each.

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy conducted an initial review of the Bush Administration's FY 2009 budget request last week. ACEEE finds that the budget includes less funding for energy efficiency programs.

"The President's budget once again fails to propose bold responses to our nation's critical energy priorities," said ACEEE Executive Director Steven Nadel in a press statement. "Congress should start with a clean slate on the 2009 budget if we are to make progress on high energy prices and global warming."

President Bush promised the budget proposal in his 2008 State of the Union Address. In that speech, Bush said, "The United States is committed to strengthening our energy security and confronting global climate change. And the best way to meet these goals is for America to continue leading the way toward the development of cleaner and more energy-efficient technology."

The total 2009 request for EERE, a major DOE agency, is $1.255 billion, a 27 percent cut from the 2008 level of $1.722 billion.

A main source of cuts: The budget zeros out low-income weatherization funds. The funds enable low-income families to permanently reduce their energy bills by making their homes more energy efficient. On average, the DOE states, weatherization reduces heating bills by 31 percent and overall energy bills by $358 per year.

"With the economic pain lower-income families are feeling, this cut is neither compassionate nor good economic policy," said Nadel. "Investing in efficiency not only makes energy bills more affordable, it also creates good jobs that will help our economy recover."

ACEEE's Policy Director Bill Prindle said the budget is "running on empty" when it comes to investing in efficiency for energy security. "Reining in our energy use should be DOE's first priority, but this budget does not reflect that," he said.

The Administration's 2009 total budget request for the DOE is $25 billion, an increase of $1.073 billion over the FY 2008 appropriation, according to a DOE statement.

"To advance renewable energy, DOE’s budget request includes funding for the President's Solar America Initiative ($225 million total - $156 million from EERE and $69 million from the Office of Science); wind power research and development ($52.5 million); and geothermal power ($30 million)." -- DOE media release 2/4/08

Among the President’s priorities funded in the FY 2009 budget request includes $1.4 billion to promote the expansion of nuclear power. The Office of Nuclear Energy budget requests $1.4 billion, a $386 million increase over the FY 2008 enacted level. Funding for the radioactive waste cleanup at the closed Hanford nuclear power plant was cut by $34.7 million.

The budget also requests $648 million for research of clean coal technology and demonstration of carbon capture and storage for coal-fired power plants, a component of Bush's "Climate Change Technology Program." The Office of Fossil Energy’s proposed budget is $1.1 billion, an increase of $223 million above the FY 2008 enacted level.

U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, noted that the budget contains a 70 percent reduction -- from $10 million to $3 million -- in research on water power ranging from traditional hydropower to wave and tidal energy.

The Building Technologies Program, which promotes green buildings among other things, would be reduced from over $137 million in 2008 to $124 million in 2009, Inslee said. The proposed cut comes despite the DOE's own findings that the program could cut carbon-dioxide emissions from buildings 20 percent by 2018.

The president's budget proposal is the first step in a year of wrangling in which Congress will decide on a budget. The associated appropriations -- the actual dollars -- might not come for several more months, and some budget items do not get appropriated at all.