The Trump administration is holding back about $43bn of funding earmarked by Congress for low-interest clean-energy loans, it has been reported.
“There’s an ideological or political aspect to this. The president is not someone who seeks to promote the clean energy sector,” Congressman Frank Pallone, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told The New York Times.
Despite Congress authorising the billions of dollars during the Obama administration, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) loan program office (LPO) has only approved one loan — for a nuclear reactor project in Georgia that had been initiated in the Obama years — since Donald Trump became president, the newspaper says.
Almost $25bn has been set aside for the LPO’s Title XVII loan program, which was established to support the commercialisation of large projects and technologies that would help avoid, reduce or sequester greenhouse-gas emissions. From this total, $10.9bn was earmarked for “advanced nuclear energy”, $8.5bn for “advanced fossil energy”, and $4.5bn for “renewable energy and energy efficiency”.
The XVII programme became infamous in 2011, when solar manufacturer Solyndra went bankrupt after receiving a $535m loan guarantee just two years earlier, causing the then Republican opposition to use the “scandal” as a stick with which to beat President Barack Obama during his successful re-election campaign in 2012.
Since then, Republicans have repeatedly said that government has no business in backing specific private energy companies — which might explain why the LPO money has not been spent.
The unspent LPO funds also include a $17.7bn loan programme for “advanced vehicle technology” and $2bn set aside for energy projects on Native American lands.
A further $823m earmarked by Congress for grants and financial assistance for renewable energy, electric vehicles and energy efficiency — from the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy — has also been withheld, Recharge reported in February.
Peter Davidson, who led the LPO during the Obama administration, told The New York Times: “Republicans have decided they don’t want this money to go out, even though a lot of it could be for things they say they like, like for the oil & gas industry or carbon capture and sequestration or the nuclear industry.”
The DOE declined to explain why the loans have not been disbursed, with a spokeswoman saying in a statement that Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette had directed the agency to “utilise all of its resources to be supportive of the energy industry during the Covid-19 pandemic, including the Loan Program Office.”