Senate avoids controversial riders in energy and water bill

Source: Hannah Hess, Geof Koss and Christa Marshall, E&E reporters • Posted: Thursday, April 14, 2016

Appropriators in both chambers advanced energy and water spending bills yesterday, with senators choosing to avoid contentious policy riders, while members of the House incorporated thousands of special requests from members.

This afternoon, the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee approved a $37.5 billion fiscal 2017 spending bill for the Department of Energy and the Army Corps of Engineers, which Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said was a $355 million increase over the current year.

The House bill, unveiled yesterday, would provide $37.4 billion in fiscal 2017 to the same agencies, a $259 million increase over current spending levels and $168 million above President Obama’s budget request. It would set funding for the corps to $6.1 billion, after Obama proposed shaving $1.4 billion.

The Senate measure — which the full committee will vote on tand could reach the floor next week — does not include “controversial riders,” Alexander said at the outset of today’s markup. Senate spending bill text and report language are generally not available until after the full panel vote.

Alexander criticized mandatory spending proposals in the president’s budget request to fund Mission Innovation, a plan among 20 countries to address climate change by doubling clean energy and research funding over five years.

“We know it isn’t going to happen,” he said of the mandatory spending.

The administration proposed a trust for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, for example, that would fund the agency at $1 billion in five years.

However, the subcommittee is calling for an increase to discretionary funding for ARPA-E — a key component of Mission Innovation. Its plan would increase funding to $292.7 million, $1.7 million above last year’s level but below the administration’s request of $325 million.

Like the House plan, Senate appropriators are calling for a slight $50 million increase to DOE’s Office of Science, which oversees most of the national laboratories and supports basic energy research.

Despite his criticism of Mission Innovation, Alexander reiterated his support for doubling basic energy research. His legislation would increase last year’s record Science Office funding of $5.35 billion to $5.4 billion.

DOE’s efficiency and renewables programs would receive flat funding of $2 billion in fiscal 2017, said a summary released by Senate Democratic appropriators.

In contrast, House appropriators are requesting $1.8 billion for those programs, $200 million below last year’s level and more than $1 billion below Obama’s request.

On the contentious mixed oxide fuel facility in South Carolina, Alexander said he and subcommittee ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) met earlier today with Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), and South Carolina GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott on the matter, which will be the subject of a future Armed Services Committee hearing.

Senate appropriators are calling to eliminate funding for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or ITER, a massive project under construction in France with multiple countries to demonstrate fusion at large scale. Alexander said cutting the project would save $125 million.

“ITER started in 2005 with an initial cost of $1.1 billion, but we have already invested that much, and the project will not likely be completed until after 2025,” he said in opening remarks.

Cuts to DOE’s fusion programs have been a sticking point with lawmakers in both chambers. Moniz will likely send a report to Congress in early May about whether the United States should continue in ITER.

The Senate spending measure includes $94.5 million for advanced nuclear reactors, reflecting Alexander’s long-standing support for the sector. That amount is $21 million above what the administration requested. Small modular nuclear reactors would see $95 million, $32 million over last year, according to Alexander.

Once again, the bill would authorize DOE to consolidate and store nuclear waste at interim storage sites, with Alexander noting that the sites would “complement” the disputed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nev.

The bill would hand over $12.9 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration and $5.4 billion for cleanup of Cold War nuclear weapons production sites.

The corps would see $6 billion under the bill, according to the Democrats’ summary. The Bureau of Reclamation would see $1.27 billion, including $100 million for drought relief efforts in the West.

House bill advances

In a quick 12-minute markup, the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee advanced its own spending bill designed to restrict the Obama administration’s jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act while boosting research spending on nuclear energy and fossil fuels.

“Increases over last year are targeted to those areas where they are needed most — to provide for our nation’s defense and to support our nation’s infrastructure,” said subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-Idaho).

The panel approved the legislation unanimously, as is generally the custom. The full Appropriations Committee could take up the measure as early as next week, a GOP aide said. There will likely be more debate then.

Under House rules, the chamber would need to adopt a budget agreement in order to consider appropriations bills before May 15, but GOP leaders do not appear to have the votes to do so (Greenwire, April 13).

The current path “puts the nation on a rather unsteady course,” said Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), ranking member of the subcommittee.

Kaptur also voiced objections to “unnecessary and controversial” riders attached to the House spending bill, including measures that would allow the possession of firearms on corps lands.

Her home state would benefit from one provision that would block that agency from dropping dredged material into Lake Erie (E&ENews PM, April 12).

Western states also stand to gain from riders aimed at maximizing water deliveries in areas afflicted by drought. The bill would increase pumping in the California Delta, expand storage and protect area-of-origin water rights.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said his colleagues had offered relief policies for years now. “Unfortunately, each time our senators failed to meet the moment. I am hopeful this time will be different,” he said.

Members made more than 2,700 requests to the subcommittee this year, and the final package contains support for 95 percent of those requests, according to Simpson.

Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) noted the bill would block the Obama administration from changing the definition of fill material, a step that could restrict dredge-and-fill permits for activities like mining.

Rogers said the changes would “shutter coal operations across the country and eliminate countless well-paying jobs in the process.”