Pacific Standard: How Cuts to DOE's Biofuels Research Would Hurt the Planet and Our Economy

By Michael White, Pacific Standard.

Biofuels can reduce emissions, benefit American corporations, and create jobs. But slashing the budget of the Bioenergy Technologies Office effectively eliminates those possibilities.

With each new report that describes the ballooning effects of human-caused climate change it becomes harder to deny that we urgently need to decarbonize our society. This task is daunting, but achievable. However, as Congress and the Trump administration take deliberate steps to slow our transition to renewable, non-fossil fuel energy, this task is about to become much more difficult. In its budget request for 2018, the Trump administration has proposed a crippling 70 percent cut to the Department of Energy's $2 billion budget for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. Congressional appropriators in the House of Representatives have proposed a slightly less crippling 53 percent cut.

These cuts would scale back federal efforts to foster the development of wind and solar energy, in line with President Donald Trump's campaign promise to bring back coal industry jobs. This would slow, but not stop our transition to wind and solar power—because their cost is at last low enough to out-compete fossil fuel energy in many states. But another type of renewable energy—one that is absolutely essential to ending our reliance on fossil fuels—is much more vulnerable to budget cuts: biofuels. The Trump administration's proposed cuts to biofuels research and development would stifle the country's participation in a nascent industry that's crucial to the future of our planet.

Even if we all switched to driving Teslas tomorrow, liquid fuels would still be necessary to power our planes, ships, and trucks—modes of transport that aren't going electric any time soon. To completely end our need to draw oil from the ground and burn it, we must develop renewable, low-carbon, and economically competitive alternatives to diesel and jet fuel. The Department of Energy plays a critical role in this, by supporting the development of the technology and infrastructure needed to build a truly green biofuels industry. Much of that support comes from the department's Bioenergy Technologies Office. The Trump administration proposes to cut the office's budget by 75 percent.