Energy-water bill advances with DOE cuts, WOTUS rider intact

Source: Sam Mintz and Ariel Wittenberg, E&E News reporters • Posted: Thursday, July 13, 2017

House appropriators this afternoon advanced an energy and water spending bill despite continued objections from Democrats over several “poison pill” riders and cuts to energy programs.

The $37.6 billion bill would fund the Energy Department, Army Corps of Engineers and other water programs at $203 million less than fiscal 2017 enacted spending levels but $3.2 billion more than requested by President Trump.

The full Appropriations Committee cleared the measure by voice vote.

It would make a steep $1 billion cut to the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy.

Committee Democrats today criticized the slashing of EERE’s funding, as well as a proposal to eliminate the $300 million Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, which funds “high risk” projects.

Several Democrats offered amendments to restore funding to both programs, including Pennsylvania Rep. Matt Cartwright, whose measure would have added nearly $1 billion for EERE. His amendment was rejected on a party-line vote of 30-22.

“I strongly disapprove of the choice to shun the energy accounts that will invent the future,” said Ohio Rep. Marcy Kaptur, ranking Democrat on the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee.

The subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), hinted that while he stands by the choice to eliminate ARPA-E, that cut may not survive the full appropriations process. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a senior appropriator in the upper chamber, is particularly supportive of the program. He told Energy Secretary Rick Perry last month that eliminating ARPA-E is “not what we are going to do” (E&E Daily, June 22).

“I hope the Department of Energy hears this: Things may change in this process. This is a process. The department should not take actions to shut down ARPA-E until Congress directs it to by law,” Simpson said.

Riders remain

The committee rejected an amendment from Kaptur to remove a number of environmental riders in the spending bill on a 20-32 vote.

Kaptur’s amendment would have removed language to exempt the Trump administration’s repeal of the Clean Water Rule, also known as the Waters of the United States, or WOTUS, rule, from the Administrative Procedure Act.

The rider text said the administration “may withdraw the Waters of the United States rule without regard to any provision of statute or regulation that establishes a requirement for such withdrawal.”

As Kaptur pointed out during debate, exempting the repeal from the APA could not only remove the requirement that it undergo certain public scrutiny but also make it easier for the new administration to ignore the Obama team’s justifications for the rule.

That could include the cost-benefit analysis and an accompanying 408-page technical report, as well as a review from U.S. EPA’s Science Advisory Board.

“The Administrative Procedure Act is a Republican idea to make sure government is accountable to its citizens,” Kaptur said. “This administration deserves more scrutiny on that front than any I can recall.”

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) agreed, saying the language is a “poison pill rider” that “would roll back vital environmental protections that would preserve our environment and clean water for future generations.”

Simpson said he still opposes the Obama-era regulation, which seeks to clarify which wetlands and waterways are protected by the Clean Water Act, because it amounts to “government overreach.”

He said the language would help accelerate the Trump administration’s efforts to “move quickly” on the issue.

“The provision is supportive of those efforts,” Simpson said.

Simpson did not address concerns about exempting the regulation’s repeal from APA, listing just three benefits from the provision.

“It one, provides clear authorization to withdraw the rule, two, says what will be in effect if it is withdrawn, and three, doesn’t impact the Trump administration’s ability to write a new rule,” he said.

Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) said he opposed Kaptur’s amendment because it would strike the WOTUS language, saying the regulation “has impacted my agricultural community. and that concerns me.”

Kaptur’s amendment would have struck a number of other policy riders, including one to allow firearms on Army Corps land, language reiterating that certain agricultural activities are exempt from the Clean Water Act and another barring funds from being used toward a National Ocean Policy.

Democratic Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and Chellie Pingree of Maine both spoke out against language relating to the National Ocean Policy, a plan put in place by the Obama administration in 2010 in an attempt to improve coordinating and planning between environmentalists and the various industries that use marine resources.

“This is just about planning ahead and working together, and it has been very beneficial,” Pingree said.

Wasserman Schultz said the policy was also critical to planning for climate change and sea-level rise in her state and said she was worried about the impacts of letting the policy fall by the wayside.

“If you don’t support the amendment, one day instead of being Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Miami Beach, I will be Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Orlando because our beaches will be underwater,” she said.

Kaptur also offered an amendment to compel the Army Corps to release a study of how to prevent Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes.

An $8.2 million Brandon Road Lock and Dam study was initiated by the Army Corps in 2015 to assess whether it could use the lock and dam to control the fish’s movements upstream. A draft report was scheduled to be released in March, but the Army Corps unexpectedly announced it was indefinitely delaying the plan.

“This amendment says ‘release the report,'” Kaptur said, adding that the Great Lakes region is in a “bureaucratic purgatory” waiting for the report.

She agreed to withdraw her amendment after Simpson said he would work with her to put pressure on the Army Corps.

“This issue has to be addressed,” Kaptur said.

The only provision added during today’s markup was a manager’s amendment making technical changes. The legislation will next be considered by the full House.