Energy spending would get big boost in omnibus

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, December 17, 2015

A $1.15 trillion fiscal 2016 spending bill released overnight is being hailed as a win for energy programs and the nation’s national labs, as well as research into advanced fossil and nuclear technologies.

The Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee portion of the omnibus includes $37.2 billion, $3 billion above 2015 enacted levels and more than $1 billion above the president’s request. Within that pot of money, the Department of Energy would see an almost $800 million increase for energy programs, helping to boost the agency’s total budget to $29.7 billion (E&E Daily, Dec. 16).

“For a Republican-controlled Congress to increase funding by almost a billion dollars, it’s fairly significant, even if the lion’s share of that increase went to fossil and nuclear,” said Paul Bledsoe, a climate aide during the Clinton administration. “I think it shows that there’s a bipartisan understanding that energy is a critical investment to long-term U.S. growth, both fossil, renewables, and [research and development].”

The omnibus’s inclusion of $29.7 billion to support DOE programs in science, energy, environment and national security roughly matches the Obama administration’s request in February for $29.9 billion for fiscal 2016, an increase of $2.5 billion from the prior year.

But the deal would also cut into some of the administration’s goals, as it would continue blocking the enforcement of a light bulb efficiency regulation. House Republicans in the past have pushed language to prevent DOE from enforcing efficiency guidelines created under a 2007 energy law (Greenwire, May 1).

To be sure, fossil and nuclear research would receive a boost.

The omnibus would provide $11 billion for energy programs under DOE, a $794 million increase above the fiscal 2015 enacted level but $528 million below the president’s request, according to the House Appropriations Committee’s summary.

The agreement would provide $632 million for DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy to research advanced coal, natural gas, oil and other fossil technologies — an increase of $61 million above the fiscal 2015 enacted levels and $72 million above Obama’s request. The package would also provide $106 million for carbon storage and $101 million for the agency to research carbon capture — including $250,000 to research technologies that capture carbon dioxide from dilute sources like the atmosphere.

“I just think there’s a recognition among Republican appropriators that coal is under emissions pressure and they’re going to need to develop better technologies to utilize it,” Bledsoe said.

The spending package includes $986 million for nuclear energy, an increase of $73 million from current spending levels and $79 million above the president’s request. The department is currently studying advanced reactors and assisting in the development of small modular reactors, seen as a possible answer to the high-capital traditional plants that are now seeing delays and cost overruns.

Also in the nuclear realm, the bill would avert a showdown over the contentious nuclear waste repository under Yucca Mountain in Nevada by keeping funding at its current level. Federal regulators have said a sharp increase in funding is needed to move the project forward.

As for renewables, the omnibus would provide about $2 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy, including a total of $241 million for solar, about $95 million for wind power, $70 million for water power and $71 million for geothermal.

The omnibus would provide $291 million for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or about $11 million more than the enacted level in this fiscal year but less than the $325 million requested by the Obama administration. Modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, ARPA-E targets energy technologies that are not ready for private-sector investment but hold the potential for a major impact on the energy sector.

Senate appropriators also applauded the spending package’s treatment of the national labs.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, was also quick to applaud what he said was “record funding” at DOE that would benefit the labs.

Alexander said he and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the panel’s ranking Democrat, worked hard on the energy and water portion and the omnibus funding for DOE’s Office of Science would help deepen ports, improve inland waterways and clean up Cold War-era hazardous waste.

The senator noted that the Office of Science, which supports basic energy research, is funded at a “record” $5.35 billion level and that Oak Ridge National Laboratory would receive $621 million, money that would support the lab’s research on the world’s fastest supercomputer.

“Once again, the world’s fastest supercomputer will be at Oak Ridge National Laboratory,” Alexander said.

Reporter Christa Marshall contributed.