There’ll be no budget retreat on clean energy — CEQ chief

Source: John McArdle • E&E • Posted: Thursday, February 9, 2012

The White House’s top environmental adviser said today that Republicans will be disappointed if they hope the hubbub over the failed solar equipment manufacturer Solyndra will translate into drastic new cuts in clean energy investments in President Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget proposal.

“The president is going to articulate his priorities next week, and as you heard in the State of the Union, he spent a lot of time talking about energy,” Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman Nancy Sutley said today after a brief appearance at an environmental justice event for students that took place on Capitol Hill.

Sutley said Obama made his commitment to clean energy clear in his State of the Union speech and that the White House’s budget submission next week will follow through on those priorities, albeit under the new spending caps that the government has been forced to work under through last year’s budget agreement.

The chairwoman declined to offer funding estimates for specific programs — such as the Department of Energy loan program that funded the loan guarantee that went to Solyndra.

“I think we’ve seen the value of some of these kinds of programs. I don’t want to necessarily address one versus the other. But I think they’ve been valuable and played a role. As the president said, we’ve subsidized oil and gas production for 100 years, and maybe that’s enough,” she said.

Sutley also declined to criticize the congressional probe of Solyndra, which began just after last year’s budget submission.

“Congress has every right to ask, ‘What are you doing with the public’s money, and are you spending it in a way that is intended?’” she said. “Obviously, they have to be run in a way that the American people have confidence in them. … I think the president has said, and I think it’s true, that there is risks in everything you do and we have to manage them as best we can.”

Last year, in a budget cycle that also saw drastic agency cuts, Obama asked for a 0.1 percent cut for CEQ. After requesting $3.448 million for CEQ in his 2011 proposal, Obama pared the agency’s 2012 request back to $3.444 million.

Some Republicans did not believe those cuts went far enough, and Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) introduced legislation that sought to defund the council. But that effort did not go anywhere.

Sutley would not say today what CEQ’s budget request will be for 2013, but she said that her office earns its funding.

“There are certainly members on both sides of the aisle who believe that CEQ, as we do, continues to provide a valuable function and is a pretty good deal to taxpayers,” she said. “We’re a small budget.”

Sutley’s comments come a week after Sens. Jim Demint (R-S.C.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced legislation that targets federal efforts to support clean energy projects through the tax code.

The “Energy Freedom and Economic Prosperity Act” — which was introduced in the House by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) last fall — would eliminate 15 energy tax credits valued at $90 billion over the next 10 years. Most of the tax credits that are targeted by the bill are for renewable power projects, though two would target oil and gas tax breaks.