Will these popular corporate sustainability programs survive the next U.S. budget?

Clean energy and conservation programs are vying for limited federal dollars.

Congress passed a bill earlier this month that creates a rough outline for government spending for the next two fiscal years, and President Donald Trump signed the measure. However, the details of how the money will be spent — which programs will get funded and at what levels, and which will get cut — are very much up in the air.

The government is running on short-term spending legislation that expires at midnight March 23. Lawmakers will be working to put forth their priorities for government funding. The hardest part will be reaching a spending deal that stays below funding limits that the U.S. House and Senate agreed to earlier this month.  

Meanwhile, the White House released a budget proposal (PDF) that would reduce funding for many clean energy, conservation and environmental programs and eliminate others.

It is unclear how much influence the president’s proposals will have on Republicans, who control both houses of Congress.

The good news, is that companies have a unique opportunity to press their elected representatives to maintain funding for government programs that they count on to reach their sustainability, conservation and clean energy goals.

First, we’ll look at some key programs and initiatives that Trump has proposed to trim or eliminate. Then, we’ll talk about what companies can do to advocate for continued funding of the programs they care about.

1. Environmental Protection Agency

Trump has proposed (PDF) shrinking the EPA and cutting many of its programs by reducing funding by nearly one-third, to about $6.1 billion, from more than $8.7 billion. Despite controversial changes brought by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, the EPA collects a wide range of scientific data and administers programs that many U.S. companies rely on to help them improve logistics, cut energy usage and costs, and reach sustainability goals.

Trumps’ budget proposal would eliminate a slew of popular corporate programs, including:

SmartWay, a government partnership program for freight carriers, logistics companies and shippers in the retail and manufacturing sectors that cut their fuel usage, greenhouse gas emissions and operational costs by using less energy and using cleaner technologies to move goods across America. Corporate partners include: the Home Depot, Gap Inc., HP Inc., Lowe’s Companies Inc., McDonald’s and Union Pacific.

AgSTAR, which encourages livestock farmers to capture and use methane from their operations to generate electricity with anerobic biodigesters. Doing so reduces greenhouse gases and livestock waste, while giving farms a way to generate clean energy. Nearly 250 anaerobic digesters are operating at commercial livestock farms across the United States, operated by large companies such as Cargill, at its Sandy River Farm in Arkansas, and smaller ones such as Ringler Farms in Ohio. As of 2014, AgSTAR helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

Natural Gas STAR, a program that encourages oil and gas producers such as BP and ConocoPhillips, and utilities such as Duke Energy and Consolidated Edison, to implement cost-effective technologies and practices to reduce methane emissions from gas pipelines and facilities.

The Center for Corporate Climate Leadership, which helps companies figure out ways to measure and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The center has given leadership awards to participating companies including Microsoft, Mars Inc., Ingersoll Rand, Cisco Systems, IBM, MetLife, Bank of America, UPS, Tiffany & Co. and Ecolab.

The Green Power Partnership program, which encourages U.S. companies to buy renewable energy. Partners include Apple, Albertsons, Microsoft, Google, Intel, Ikea, Starbucks, Walmart, Mars Inc. and Unilever.

WaterSense, another public-private partnership, through which the EPA helps companies, residents and institutions conserve water. It also provides labels for water conservation products. The program has recognized many companies for their conservation efforts, including the Home Depot, KB Home and American Standard.

2. The Energy Department's efficiency and renewables programs

The Trump budget proposal aims to cut many key Energy Department programs, particularly those administered by the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).

Among Trump’s most controversial proposals is one that would move the popular ENERGY STAR efficiency program from the DOE to the EPA and convert it into a pay-to-play scheme. The Energy Star program has more than 16,000 partner companies and organizations, and is among the most cost-effective. The program, which costs about $42 million a year, delivered $34 billion of savings in 2015 alone.

The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which supports promising breakthrough technologies by making grants to clean technology startups and researchers, is also on Trump’s hit list. The agency’s current fiscal year budget is about $305 million.

3. The farm bill

The farm bill is a massive piece of legislation passed every five years. It’s a keystone budget and policy bill for the nation’s agriculture sector, but it can help or hinder progress in agricultural conservation, adoption of new technologies and methods. Organic farmers and agricultural organizations that have sustainable development goals rely on many of these programs to reach their own goals, and to help companies in their supply chains improve their practices as well.

The Trump budget would cut or "streamline" several Agriculture Department conservation programs, including:

The Conservation Reserve Program, which compensates farmers for taking environmentally sensitive land out of production for 10 years or so, to avoid erosion and depletion of resources, and to allow the land to return to its natural state.

Through the Rural Economic Development Program, the USDA provides zero-interest loans to local utilities which in turn make loans to local businesses to start up new companies, expand operations, set up business incubators or provide technical assistance.

The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program offers education, training, outreach and mentoring programs to enhance the sustainability of the next generation of farmers.

The Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative funds research projects that seek to solve problems to help producers and processors who already have adopted organic standards to grow and market high quality organic agricultural products.

What can you do?

First, if your company has a legislative affairs person or team, be sure to let them know that important government conservation and clean energy programs that your company cares about are in peril and that they should let lawmakers know that these are important, said Nicole Lederer, chair and co-founder of Environmental Entrepreneurs.

"There is no better-positioned group to influence the outcome on this than business leaders," she said.

Second, if your company is a member of one or more industry associations, make sure your industry association comprehends the impact of these policies on the markets for the industry and on your company.

Finally, reach out directly to representatives who represent the states or districts where you do business and explain to them that your company values and relies on important government programs that must be preserved, Lederer said. They will listen. Especially if you frame your request by telling them:

  • Where you do business.
  • How many jobs you represent in their district.
  • Where those jobs are.
  • What your value chain looks like and where those jobs are.
  • What your impact is on consumers.
  • What your impact is on the possibility of export opportunities.
  • What your contributions are to state and national economic growth.

"If you know those things, you can meet with anyone directly related to where those jobs exist and where those economic contributions are being created," Lederer said. "In those meetings, you should talk about what you care about" — in particular, government programs and policies that are important to your business, your company’s goals and the economic growth and climate that you believe are important going forward.

"These policies are setting the stage for what you will be operating on for the next several decades," she advised.