DOE science programs are ‘high priority’ — Sen. Alexander

Source: Geof Koss, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A key Appropriations subcommittee chairman signaled yesterday that the Department of Energy’s Office of Science will be a top funding priority in the fiscal 2017 energy-water development spending bill expected on the Senate floor next week.

Energy-Water Subcommittee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) declined to delve into the details of the bill ahead of this afternoon’s subcommittee markup but told E&E Daily yesterday that it would follow the course that he and ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) have set in recent years.

“We’re on a pretty good course that we hope to continue,” Alexander said, citing funding for the Office of Science and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), nuclear waste efforts, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood and waterways maintenance projects as top priorities for the pair’s tenure.

“I think the value on what we’ve done is set priorities over the last two or three Congresses that have stayed the same. And we’ve made significant progress,” Alexander said. “Last year was the highest funding in any appropriations bill for the Office of Science, and we’re working hard to set a very high priority for this year.”

Feinstein yesterday declined to comment on the bill’s contents ahead of the markup, which will be followed by a full Appropriations Committee markup tomorrow and floor action next week.

Alexander’s comments come as the administration is leaning on Congress to double clean energy research and development funding over five years as part of its Mission Innovation proposal.

The initiative would take a hit in the House’s $37.4 billion energy-water development bill unveiled yesterday, with the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy receiving $1.8 billion in fiscal 2017 — more than $1 billion below the requested amount (E&ENews PM, April 12).

But Alexander, who has long called for a greater federal investment in energy research, noted that the request “covers a lot of elements of the Department of Energy.”

“And Secretary [Ernest] Moniz has talked with us about it,” he said. “The high funding for the Office of Science, the ARPA-E funding and flexibility so the secretary can use other parts of his departmental budget for Mission Innovation would be the things that he would like most about that.”

As in past years, the House bill would hand new money to the administration to continue the nuclear waste facility at Yucca Mountain, Nev. — funds that haven’t seen the light of day in the Senate due to the clout of Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who is retiring at the end of the year.

Alexander noted that he supports the project and suggested the topic may surface during this afternoon’s markup. “We’ll see … whether I can prevail on that,” he said.

He declined to say whether the spending bill will once again include a provision authorizing the Energy Department to move ahead on interim storage of nuclear waste, although both he and Feinstein earlier this year signaled they would try again on the language (E&E Daily, March 2).

“Senator Feinstein and I have worked very hard on that, and we’ll see what we can do about that,” Alexander said.

Early start

With debate on the Senate’s energy-water bill expected next week, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is making good on his pledge to turn the upper chamber’s attention to the appropriations process for the next three months (E&ENews PM, April 5).

With the House so far unable to pass a budget resolution because of GOP intra-caucus tension over spending levels, McConnell yesterday reiterated that Senate appropriators will go ahead and write their spending bills to the level agreed to in last year’s budget deal as they await some resolution on the budget in the House.

It’s unusual for the Senate to move before the House on appropriations, but Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), the ranking member on the Appropriations panel, said yesterday she hoped the House would soon follow course.

“The Senate is moving,” she told reporters. “We hope the House gets its allocations. We look forward to getting our allocations on Thursday. It’s not perfect, but I think we can proceed.”

Reporter George Cahlink contributed.