House denies admin priorities in energy and water spending bill

Source: George Cahlink, Hannah Hess, Tiffany Stecker and Christa Marshall, E&E reporters • Posted: Wednesday, April 13, 2016

House Republican appropriators unveiled a tight $37.4 billion energy and water development spending bill this afternoon that largely ignores the White House’s request and takes on several of its top policies.

The legislation, set for subcommittee markup tomorrow afternoon, would fund agencies under its jurisdiction at $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.

“This is a responsible bill that supports U.S. national security, safety and economic competitiveness — balancing these critical priorities while maintaining tight budget caps,” said House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Chairman Mike Simpson (R-Idaho).

“It prioritizes the maintenance and safety of our nuclear weapons and makes strategic investments in infrastructure projects and energy research that will help grow our economy,” Simpson said.

The legislation includes another top Republican priority — a boost for the controversial Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada.

Clean energy hike denied

The Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy would take a hit under the plan. Appropriators are requesting $1.8 billion, $200 million below last year’s level and more than $1 billion below President Obama’s request.

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.

DOE and many of EERE’s renewable, efficiency and sustainable transportation programs would help implement that plan in the United States. The administration called for a 60 percent increase in wind research and a 40 percent jump in geothermal programs, for example.

The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy would fare better, receiving a slight increase from last year’s level of $291 million to $306 million.

The agency funds energy projects in the early stages that are typically out of the reach of the private sector and is also part of the Mission Innovation plan (E&E Daily, Feb. 8).

The Office of Science, which funds DOE’s fusion, advanced computing and basic research programs, would see its funding increased from last year’s record level, from $5.35 billion to $5.4 billion, under the new GOP-led bill.

The science office generally enjoys support from both Democrats and Republicans, like Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), for its support of research initiatives at the national labs. Obama requested $5.7 billion.

Reviving Yucca, backing MOX

House appropriators have revived the perennial fight over the nuclear waste repository in Nevada, providing a $150 million boost in nuclear waste disposal funding that Republicans want to use to revive the Yucca Mountain site.

The Obama administration shuttered the project, opposed by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, but pro-Yucca lawmakers are looking ahead to the Nevada Democrat’s year-end retirement.

The bill would block funding for closure activities “or for actions that irrevocably remove the possibility that Yucca Mountain may be a repository option in the future” (E&E Daily, April 6).

The bill also includes $20 million for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to continue reviewing DOE’s application to build a repository under the mountain, located about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-Ill.) recently pressed Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on a 2013 federal appeals court decision that ordered NRC to continue its review of the application (E&E Daily, March 18).

Obama’s budget request, by contrast, reflects a continued push away from Yucca toward an alternative plan to begin engaging with communities interested in hosting permanent sites for nuclear waste (EnergyWire, April 12).

The new spending bill would increase funding for DOE’s nuclear office and nuclear weapons security programs. However, the $1.8 billion funding level for defense nuclear nonproliferation reflects a $118 million decrease below current spending. The bill would prohibit new nuclear nonproliferation projects in Russia.

Republicans are also resisting the Obama administration’s second attempt to pull the plug on an over-budget and behind-schedule nuclear fuel reprocessing facility in South Carolina (E&E Daily, Feb. 10).

The bill would restore funding for the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site to $340 million, defying Obama’s plan to start shutting down the plant.

On environmental cleanup, the bill includes $6.15 billion, cutting about 10 percent from current levels. Republicans have rejected a plan by the Obama administration to use an old fund tied to the once-government-owned U.S. Enrichment Corp. for decontamination and decommissioning of uranium enrichment sites in Tennessee, Ohio and Kentucky (E&E Daily, March 1).

Instead, the legislation would allocate about $689 million for cleanup from the Uranium Enrichment Decontamination and Decommissioning Fund.

Boost for Army Corps

The spending bill would offer the Army Corps of Engineers’ civil works division a record $6.1 billion — $100 million more than fiscal 2016 enacted levels and $1.5 billion more than the president’s budget request.

This would include $2.7 billion for navigation projects and studies and $1.26 billion for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund — about $63 million more than the appropriation for fiscal 2016.

“This is all good news and will help move critical projects forward,” said Rob Vining, a senior adviser with policy and planning firm Dawson & Associates and former chief of civil works for the Army Corps.

Congress has allocated record levels for the corps over the last four years, boosting the lower levels proposed in the president’s budget request.

The new proposed boost comes as Congress prepares to unveil a Water Resources Development Act later this month, which would authorize studies and construction on massive public works and environmental restoration projects.

The spending plan would allow full use of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, an amount that won’t be known until the full committee markup.

It also includes $1.8 billion for flood and storm damage reduction activities, an increase of $105 million above fiscal 2016 and $582 million above the administration’s budget proposal.

The Bureau of Reclamation would receive $1.1 billion in the spending bill, $131 million less than the fiscal 2016 level and $27 million more than the president’s request. Reclamation manages water resources in the West, overseeing often contentious water diversions.

At the behest of California’s Republican lawmakers, the bill includes provisions to allow flexibility in the operations of the state’s major water projects, relaxing water-saving restrictions in periods of heavy rainfall, like last winter’s El NiƱo-driven storms.

Riders

The bill also includes a number of riders to restrict the administration’s authority to claim jurisdiction over certain bodies of water under the Clean Water Act.

The legislation would bar any changes to federal jurisdiction under the act in an attempt to block U.S. EPA and the Army Corps’ Clean Water Rule.

The measure, currently tied up in federal court, seeks to redefine which wetlands and waterways receive automatic protection under the Clean Water Act.

The legislation would also bar the administration from changing the definition of fill material, a step that could restrict dredge-and-fill permits for activities like mining.

Another provision in the bill would ban such permits for routine farming and ranching activities, including cultivating, harvesting and pond or irrigation ditch construction.

Republican Rep. Bob Gibbs and other Ohio lawmakers reinserted a provision from the fiscal 2016 spending bill to block the corps from dropping dredged material into Lake Erie.

The state of Ohio has pushed back against the corps’ attempts to dispose of the material in the lake, saying the often-polluted sediment would pose a threat to fisheries.

The bill also includes language allowing the possession of firearms on corps lands.

Reporter Dylan Brown contributed.