Energy bill faces Senate test; House sets markup

Source: George Cahlink, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Spending priorities for energy, nuclear and agriculture programs and scores of water projects will come into focus this week as fiscal 2017 funding bills work their ways through both the Senate and House.

The first test of a Senate bipartisan truce to move ahead with the annual appropriations measures will come this week with planned action on the energy and water spending legislation. It is the first such bill to move to the floor in either chamber this year.

The Senate will take a procedural vote as early as this evening to begin debating the legislation and considering amendments. Lawmakers are likely to reach the 60 votes necessary because of the agreement to stick with spending levels set last year.

The energy and water spending bill, approved unanimously by the Senate Appropriations Committee last week, would provide a total of $37.5 billion, including dollars for the Energy Department, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It’s a $355 million increase over current spending.

Appropriators last week previewed a few amendments they plan to offer on the floor, with the most contentious being Sen. John Hoeven’s (R-N.D.) push to defund the U.S. EPA-Army Corps’ Clean Water Act jurisdictional rule.

Last year, Hoeven successfully included the rider to the separate EPA spending bill, but the measure never made it to the floor or into the year-end spending deal.

Additional hot-button amendments are likely to pour in when the Senate takes up the bill. A key challenge will be for lawmakers wanting program increases to find cuts elsewhere.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) will offer an amendment to boost funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, which would see $297.7 million under the bill, a $1.7 million boost over current levels.

Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) supports the program but noted the difficulty in finding an appropriate offset (Greenwire, April 14).

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) will offer an amendment aimed at boosting wind energy funding. He’s certain to face opposition from Alexander, a longtime critic of federal support for wind.

On Thursday, Alexander noted the spending bill already includes $50 million for offshore wind — a priority for Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), an appropriator.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) plans to offer an amendment to boost funding to clear the Mississippi River in his state, a major shipping conduit plagued with sediment from heavy flooding earlier this year.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) plans to offer an amendment to require a Government Accountability Office review of the domestic effects of crude oil exports. He called it a “relatively minor, noncontroversial” proposal that has already been backed by the chamber on a 62-29 vote.

However, Coons agreed to work with Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) on revisions ahead of floor action that would also require the review to include any “positive” economic effects of lifting the ban.

Lawmakers may also push amendments to address the ongoing California drought, particularly ones seeking to alter the pumping operations in the state’s engineered water projects to allocate more water to farmers and cities.

House action

The House Appropriations Committee will mark up its $37.4 billion energy and water development spending bill tomorrow that largely ignores the White House’s requests and takes on several of its top policies.

The legislation, approved last week in subcommittee, would appropriate $259 million above current spending and $168 million above the president’s request.

The proposed increase would be less than 1 percent over fiscal 2016 funding, a move in keeping with Republicans’ calls for strict limits on discretionary spending.

Democrats are likely to try to reverse plans to provide a $150 million boost for the controversial Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada. Republicans added the money in a bid to revive the site.

The administration has shuttered the project, which has been long been opposed by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, but pro-Yucca lawmakers are looking ahead to the Nevada Democrat’s retirement this term.

Democrats may try to restore some dollars for the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. The House bill would give the agency about $1 billion less than the White House wanted.

The office is key to the administration’s plans to address climate change through Mission Innovation, a global plan among 20 countries to double clean energy research and development spending in five years.

Divisions

House and Senate appropriators are split on the fate of a contentious mixed oxide (MOX) fuel facility in South Carolina, which the Obama administration wants to shutter.

The House energy and water spending bill would allocate $345 million for the facility, flat from last year. But the Senate’s bill would provide $270 million, in line with DOE’s request, while staying silent on the fate of the facility (E&ENews PM, April 13).

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said neither chamber was providing enough funding to move forward with construction in a meaningful way, but he hopes his ally, Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), will find a solution for the $4.5 billion facility that is nearly a decade in the making. McCain said he would probably hold a separate hearing on MOX in the coming weeks (E&E Daily, April 15).

The House Appropriations Committee tomorrow is also set to move a $21.3 billion bill for agriculture, rural development and food programs, which is $451 million less than current spending and $218 million below the administration’s request.

The panel’s ranking member, Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.), said during last week’s subcommittee markup that he had only “minor concerns” about the proposal, including what he called inadequate funding for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Democrats also are likely to raise concerns about a provision in the bill that would seek to block federal regulation of large and premium cigars. Past flashpoints, such as banning horse slaughter, aren’t part of the bill.

The House spending measures won’t move to the floor until at least mid-May. The chamber has yet to adopt a fiscal 2017 budget, and, without one, it can’t consider any appropriations bills until after May 15 (see related story).

Both the energy and water, and agriculture measures would likely be among the first fiscal 2017 spending bills to make it to the House floor, given their generally bipartisan support.

Schedule: The markup is Tuesday, April 19, at 10:30 a.m. in 2359 Rayburn.

Reporters Geof Koss, Hannah Hess, Christa Marshall and Marc Heller contributed.