Senate panel OKs $38.4B energy and water spending bill

Source: Christa Marshall and Ariel Wittenberg, E&E News reporters • Posted: Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee advanced a fiscal 2018 energy and water spending bill this afternoon that largely rejects President Trump’s request for the Department of Energy.

Approved by voice vote, the $38.4 billion measure sets up tricky negotiations with the House, which is moving legislation with much deeper cuts to many DOE programs.

The Senate bill, for example, funds the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy at a record level of $330 million, while Trump and the House measure would eliminate it. The Office of Science, which oversees the majority of the national labs, would receive $5.55 billion, up from $5.4 billion. The overall energy and water bill provides $629 million more than fiscal 2017.

Subcommittee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said lawmakers “started with an unrealistic proposal from the president” in writing their bill.

The result, negotiated with ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), reflects “the priorities that we both agree on,” Alexander said.

Feinstein agreed, saying that while she doesn’t support all the funding cuts in the bill, “I’m pleased to see the bill preserves important investments in scientific research, ARPA-E, Army Corps infrastructure projects and drought resiliency.”

Feinstein expressed concern that the bill would eliminate DOE’s loan guarantee program, as called for by Trump. She said she would have preferred that the program be phased out, rather than eliminated, to allow existing applications to be processed.

Also, several DOE offices would see cuts below fiscal 2017 levels under the Senate plan.

DOE’s energy efficiency and renewable energy programs — which Trump wanted to slash by 70 percent — would be funded at $1.9 billion. That is lower than the $2.1 billion provided last year, but far above Trump’s proposal.

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy supports renewable and sustainable transportation research and oversees mandatory efficiency standards.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she was relieved the bill rejects the president’s proposal to eliminate the weatherization assistance program, a priority of New England lawmakers.

Fossil energy research and development would receive $573 million, down from $668 million. The Office of Fossil Energy backs research on coal, gas, oil and carbon capture.

The bill includes a pilot program for consolidated nuclear waste storage and provides funding for DOE to support storing nuclear waste at private facilities. Alexander said the new sites “would not take the place of Yucca Mountain.”

“We have more than enough used fuel to fill Yucca Mountain to its legal capacity — but rather would complement it,” he said.

The spending bill also aims to save money by cutting the U.S. contribution to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or ITER, a multinational project in France to demonstrate fusion at scale.

Environmental cleanup would receive $6.6 billion, $214 million above the fiscal 2017 level. Nuclear energy research programs would receive $917 million, a $214 million increase above the president’s request.

Alexander said he was “very concerned” about the cost of the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility in South Carolina.

“We agree with the recommendation in the budget request to terminate the program. We are working to find a path forward to move plutonium out of South Carolina sooner and at a lower cost to taxpayers,” Alexander said.

Higher funding for DOE’s research programs wasn’t unexpected. Last month, Alexander called Trump’s budget proposal for DOE “pretty bad” and said he would not follow proposed cuts for ARPA-E or the national labs (E&E Daily, June 22).

Alexander is a longtime supporter of the labs, including Oak Ridge National Laboratory in his home state of Tennessee. He and other lawmakers like Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) say they don’t agree with the Trump administration’s contention that much DOE research could be picked up by the private sector.


On water issues, the bill would fund the Army Corps of Engineers at $6.2 billion, slightly more than the House version and $1.225 billion more than Trump’s budget request.

The subcommittee’s bill summary says that “rather than accept the administration’s proposal to cut U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funding by 17 percent, the bill includes a responsible level of funding to improve and maintain flood control projects and ensure the viability of national and regional ports and waterways.”

In particular, the bill would allow for full use of the estimated annual revenues from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, which shipping and barge companies pay into. It also meets the spending target for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund of $1.3 billion.

The Bureau of Reclamation would receive $1.3 billion, $190 million above Trump’s budget request. That includes $98 million of additional funding for drought resiliency activities included in December’s Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act. It also sets aside $94 million for rural water projects in Western states.

It remains unclear whether the Senate spending bill will include a provision in many of the House appropriations bill aimed at expediting Trump’s effort to repeal the contentious 2015 Clean Water Rule. Those bills would exempt a withdrawal of the regulation from the Administrative Procedure Act, eliminating the public comment process for reviewing rulemakings, among other things.

The bill’s text will be released Thursday when the full Appropriations Committee marks up the legislation.