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The Energy Department is reportedly denying funds for already-approved grants

The grant-making ARPA-E program was targeted for elimination in Trump budget.

Eric Rohlfing, acting director at the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy, speaks at the agency’s 2017 Energy Innovation Summit in National Harbor, Maryland on February 27, 2017. CREDIT: ARPA-E.

After proposing to eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) in its draft budget, the Trump administration, through the Department of Energy, has started withholding money for grants already approved by the agency, Politico reported Thursday, citing two unidentified sources.

The hold on the money for the grants began last week, Politico reported. During his run for the White House, President Donald Trump promised to target federal funding for agencies, like ARPA-E, that promote clean energy technologies.

Trump’s “America First: A Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” released March 16, eliminates all funding for ARPA-E and and a similar agency for vehicle technology “because the private sector is better positioned to finance disruptive energy research and development and to commercialize innovative technologies.”

In response to Trump administration claims that the private sector is prepared to invest in these technologies, former ARPA-E director Ellen Williams insisted at a March conference that the agency “does not compete at a stage at which the private sector does R&D,” according to a Forbes news report. The agency is looking at funding early stage technologies “that are very high risk and allowing those technologies to compete … on an even playing field to move themselves forward on a pathway toward commercial assessment,” she said.

Just a week before Trump’s budget was released, Energy Secretary Rick Perry had publicly hailed the work of researchers who had received ARPA-E grants.

DOE, ARPA-E’s parent department, did not directly address the claims about the withholding of funds for already-approved grants. In a statement emailed to ThinkProgress on Thursday, a DOE spokesperson said, “As with any transition from administration to administration, we have undertaken a full review of all department programs, policies, and taxpayer-funded grants. This is nothing more than applying good governance principles to how these programs are being executed.”

Brad Townsend, associate director for energy innovation at the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Energy Project, told ThinkProgress that it’s not uncommon for DOE or other federal agencies to reevaluate programs when they come in, especially when the government is operating under a continuing resolution like it is now for fiscal year 2017.

“FY’17 funds being withheld is less than ideal but doesn’t raise any flags for me,” Townsend said. “What concerns me more is if you look at some of the FOAs [funding opportunity announcements] for FY’16 programs, there are funding announcements that have yet to be made and are already overdue… Those are dollars that have been…

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