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Trumpworld puts $5.5B in Interior spending under close scrutiny

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Here's two updates on how the Trump administration is putting new restrictions on funding decisions at energy and resource agencies.

Interior Department: Axios obtained an internal memo showing that high-level Trump officials at the Interior are requiring a new review of fiscal year 2017 grants and cooperative agreements of $100,000 or more before they can move forward.

  • Secretary Ryan Zinke, in the April 12 memo, notes that the agency distributes $5.5 billion in such funding annually and that he wants to better understand the "immense impact" the spending has on Interior's "mission delivery."
  • The effort includes a review of "flexibility" to direct specific grants and agreements to "new priorities" at Interior.

Energy Department: Politico Pro reported yesterday that the department has begun withholding funding on Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) grants that have already been approved under the Obama administration.

  • Projects that received initial backing are expected to have money withheld under the "procurement hold," according to the report.
  • ARPA-E funds research and development in a wide range of "breakthrough" energy technologies. The agency has bipartisan support in Congress, but Trump's proposed fiscal year 2018 budget seek to end all funding.

Quick take: The apparent restrictions at ARPA-E could set up an early clash between Congress and the Trump administration over support for green energy R&D ahead of wider spending battles over fiscal year 2018 appropriations.

  • The apparent funding restrictions are already getting attention on Capitol Hill, where ARPA-E has backing on both sides of the aisle. An aide to Sen. Dick Durbin, who is on the Appropriations Committee, told Axios that funding for an ARPA-E recipient in Durbin's state of Illinois has been frozen.
  • The Energy Department isn't offering any details about what's happening in response to press inquiries. "As with any transition from administration to administration, we have undertaken a full review of all department programs, policies, and taxpayer funded grants," a spokeswoman said in a statement to Axios, adding that the department is "applying good governance principles to how these programs are being executed."