(Bloomberg) -- The Trump administration is withholding nearly a billion dollars for a clean energy program it has unsuccessfully tried to cut, congressional Democrats said Wednesday, raising the specter of political interference.
The unspent funds now amount to $823 million in the Energy Department’s office that provides grants and other financial assistance for alternative energy, electric vehicles and energy efficiency, according to Democrats on the House Science Committee, which is holding a joint subcommittee hearing on the topic.
The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which has a $2.85 billion budget, was targeted for 80% cuts in the last White House budget request -- only to see Congress increase its funding instead. The office has also recently canceled funding of proposed projects and left scores of staffing positions unfilled, said Illinois Democrat Bill Foster.
“When Congress passes a budget, we expect that budget to be followed,” said Foster, chairman of the panel’s Investigations and Oversight subcommittee. “It’s unclear to many of us there has been a completely good-faith effort.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council said in a statement that the delayed-funding was yet another example of “ideologically driven efforts that thwart action to combat climate” change. The Trump administration has moved to ease Obama-era rules limiting greenhouse gas emissions from cars and power plants, while also pulling the country out of the Paris climate accord.
“The agency is flouting congressional intent,” said Arjun Krishnaswami, an analyst with the environmental group’s climate and clean energy program.
Republicans on the committee said so-called carry-over funding within the office was normal.
“It’s business as usual,” said Representative Ralph Norman, of South Carolina.
And Daniel Simmons, assistant secretary for Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, said the agency fully intends to spend its appropriated funding “consistent with both congressional guidance and administration priorities.” The office is in the process of hiring more staff, Simmons said.
He pointed to $126 million in funding for solar technologies announced by the Energy Department just as the hearing began Wednesday.
”This has been a very good faith effort,” Simmons testified.“We are trying to be good stewards of tax payer dollars.”
The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which grew under Obama, has financed research into technologies ranging from electric vehicles to energy projects powered by ocean waves. It has been credited with financing research to help make the cost of wind power competitive with coal, and cutting the costs of LED lighting.
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