Wading into the Trump era of energy efficiency

Blog | February 01, 2017 - 11:53 am
By Lowell Ungar, Senior Policy Advisor

Barely one week into the new administration, we are far enough into the water to see dim shapes of the future ahead—some look more like sharks, some like rocks. Here’s some of what we see as of now:

Department of Energy programs face an undertow. In his confirmation hearing Secretary-designee Rick Perry was surprisingly supportive of DOE’s research and the national labs (for someone who once called to axe the entire agency). But President Donald Trump ordered a broad hiring freeze as a first step toward reducing the federal workforce. There is also reportedly a proposal to eliminate the whole Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Office (among others) in a broad budget outline that may be released in February. We are gearing up to support the efficiency programs when Congress takes up funding bills for the rest of 2017 in April and for 2018 later this year.

Appliance standards may be treading water for now. Although three recent standards could be subject to repeal under the Congressional Review Act, they do not appear to be prime targets, based on several meetings with congressional staff. On the other hand, five standards that were finalized but not officially published (as well as a manufactured housing standard that was under final review) may be caught in a temporary moratorium on regulations issued by Trump’s chief of staff Reince Priebus.

Vehicle standards face submerged reefs. The standard for trucks and buses also could be subject to congressional repeal, but it does not appear to be at the top of the target lists. On the other hand, Trump suggested he will ease regulations on car companies, which could include the fuel economy and tailpipe emissions standards for cars and light trucks. In any case, California will very likely maintain its emission standards, which apply in 12 other states as well.

Clean Power Plan may be dead in the water. The new White House website says Trump is “committed to eliminating...the Climate Action Plan,” and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator-designee Scott Pruitt said he continues to oppose the Clean Power Plan rules on carbon emissions from existing power plants. The next step may depend on an imminent ruling from the DC Court of Appeals. But regardless of the fate of this rule, the critical issues of clean air and public health will remain.

Tax reform and infrastructure are about to dive in. Trump continues to talk about infrastructure investment and cutting taxes as ways to spur economic growth. Congress is interested in tax reform but concerned about increased spending. These issues may be paired, starting with a 2018 budget resolution in late spring but extending into the fall. We have joined with other efficiency supporters to send up proposals for tax reforms and investments that increase efficiency. Still on shore is a farm bill that could foster efficiency in rural areas.

Regulatory reform is making waves. Trump signed an executive order directing that for every new rule, two be repealed, and limiting the combined cost (no mention of benefits) of the new and repealed rules, unless prohibited by law. He also has continued his statements against regulations, including a perhaps hyperbolic intent to “cut regulations by 75%, maybe more.” The House has already passed a few bills to make it more difficult to issue new rules or easier to repeal recent ones, but they do not appear to have the 60 Senate votes needed to overcome a filibuster. We and other efficiency supporters sent a letter cautioning Congress not to lose the benefits of appliance standards.

Federal efficiency policy may indeed be in troubled water, but we will seek to keep vital policies and programs afloat while also working at the state and local levels, which are partly sheltered. Following the example of our founders like Art Rosenfeld, our focus will remain on empirical research and analysis, which we trust will show that energy efficiency remains a crucial support for economic development, job creation, and consumer benefits.