U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, an Alabama Republican, was unsuccessful last week in attempting to cut $1.65 billion from the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program, which provides federal subsidies to alternative energy companies.
Supporters of the program have argued that such subsidies are necessary to kick-start companies who can help meet America’s power needs while weaning the country off its dependence on fossil fuels; many conservatives, however, feel that it’s a wasteful corporate welfare scheme and part of a continued demonization of traditional fuel sources such as coal.
“I’d like you to come to Alabama, where coal miners are losing their jobs, because we have a war on coal in this country,” Byrne said on the floor. “We give lip service to all of the above [energy policies]. And then the administration has a deliberate policy of attacking coal as a means of putting people out of work.”
There can be little debate that the U.S. needs to look for energy solutions; national electricity use alone, for example, was 13 times greater in 2013 than it was in 1950.
But Byrne argued that it’s inappropriate for the government to spend taxpayer funds investing in private companies. “This program, under the Department of Energy, allows the government to invest millions of taxpayer dollars in high-risk research and development schemes for ‘green energy’ projects,” he said. “The government should not be in the business of subsidizing the research and development initiatives of individual companies. … [T]he government should not take the role of a private investor.”
Cutting funding for the program has been raised before as a way to rein in spending in Washington, and the move is supported by the Heritage Foundation, a prominent conservative think-tank.
Byrne offered an amendment that would have implemented the cuts during debate on an energy and water development bill, but the House of Representatives voted it down 282-139. That means 100 GOP reps joined Democrats in voting against him, bringing criticism from some conservatives.