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BUDGET CUT SEEMS INEVITABLE, Wind funding

A battle amongst Republican politicians on Capitol Hill could lead to a cut in next fiscal year's federal wind budget of as much as 10-20% from this year's $32 million. The matter, however, was far from final at the end of last month. Budget appropriations for fiscal year 1997, which starts this autumn, started in earnest just a few weeks ago. No further votes on the budget were expected until early or mid June.

A tough fight for renewables was ensured as soon as the House of Representatives budget committee voted on May 8 to abolish the entire US Department of Energy (DOE) next year. National energy laboratories would also be dismantled. The committee voted, too, to slash research funding for renewables, among other things, to 50% of the level authorised in 1995 for each of the next three years.

The startling proposal comes from the conservative wing of the right-of-centre Republican Party, which believes government has only a limited role, or no official role, in energy policy. More moderate Republicans, however, are fighting to retain some energy funding and policy direction and to prevent Democrats from painting all Republicans as anti-environment in the run up to the crucial November presidential election.

After the fate of renewables funding was taken up last month by the appropriations committee, in the mostly Republican House of Representatives, cuts ranging from $1.5 billion to $3 billion out of a total of $7 billion funding for energy and water were being considered. The committee was expected to vote sometime in June. The outlook in the US Senate is brighter as its members are, on average, less conservative and more pro-environment.

But whatever the outcome from both houses of the US Congress, wind seems ultimately exposed to cuts that would bring funding down to about $28.8 million to $25.6 million, compared with $32 million for this fiscal year, speculates Randy Swisher of the American Wind Energy Association.

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