House set to consider drought, renewables amendments

Source: George Cahlink, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Amendments to the energy and water spending bill that would block a Republican plan for combating the California drought and shuffle energy research funding priorities are due for House votes today or tomorrow.

The $37.4 billion energy and water spending bill (H.R. 5055) moved to the House floor last night and roll call votes on amendments are due today. The legislation that funds the Energy Department, Army Corps of Engineers and federal nuclear programs and research is due for final passage later this evening or, more likely, tomorrow.

Given the bill is moving under an open rule that allows any member to offer a provision, additional amendments are expected to be introduced today.

A proposal from Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) would strike provisions in the bill drawn from controversial drought legislation (H.R. 2898) that passed the House last summer. He warned the proposed provisions would damage the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta’s ecosystem and could cause serious economic harm.

“These provisions would undermine 40 years of progress in developing a true stewardship over the land and resources,” McNerney said.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who crafted the drought legislation, blasted the move to strip its provisions from the spending measure. He said the language is based on compromise legislation with input from Democrats that sought to balance environmental protections with the need to provide water to agricultural communities.

“I think it’s about time that we stop making false accusations and actually stand for what we need,” said McCarthy, who insisted the provisions do not change Endangered Species Act protections as critics have charged.

Lawmakers also raised concerns over funding levels for fossil energy and renewable research.

The House bill currently funds fossil energy research, which supports carbon capture technology research, at a much higher level than what passed the Senate and was requested by the White House.

The White House threatened to veto the energy and water bill partly because it funds DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy about $1 billion below the administration’s request. The department’s renewable and efficiency programs are considered critical for Mission Innovation, a plan announced at climate talks in Paris last year to double clean energy R&D over five years.

The House is also due to vote on an amendment by Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) that would boost the fossil energy research budget by $45 million above the $645 million already proposed and offset it with cuts to the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy.

“Let’s figure out a way we can keep the jobs … and also burn coal more cleanly,” said Griffith, citing the loss of thousands of coal jobs.

The Griffith amendment was sharply criticized by Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), who noted the bill currently funds fossil fuel research $13 million more than current spending, while slashing other clean energy programs.

“I really don’t think we should take from the accounts that are providing some of the future answers,” she said, adding, “Renewable energy is at the forefront of an energy transformation.”

The House will also consider an amendment by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) that would increase the Energy Department’s efficiency and renewable energy efforts by $285 million by cutting fossil energy research programs.

Other amendments that are due for roll call votes, include:

  • An amendment by Rep. Curt Clawson (R-Fla.) that would increase funding for the Army Corps of Engineers by $50 million by cutting funds for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
  • An amendment by Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) that would increase funding for the Northern Border Regional Commission to $7.5 million by cutting the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
  • An amendment by Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas) to cut $7 million from the Energy Department’s Innovative Technology Loan Guarantee Program.
  • An amendment from Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) to shift $1 million in Energy Department funds to create a DOE Office of Good Jobs to promote economic development.

Several amendments were also adopted by voice vote, including:

  • An amendment from Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) to bar spending to enforce federal incandescent lightbulb standards.
  • An amendment from Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) that would increase funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy to $325 million, which is more than $30 million above current spending. That matches the level passed in the Senate but remains below the White House request.
  • An amendment from Rep. James Langevin (D-R.I.) that would increase by $5 million funding for researching alternative nuclear fuels to power Navy aircraft carriers and submarines.

Reporter Christa Marshall contributed.