Senate sets water rule vote, seeks quick finish to spending bill

Source: Geof Koss, Tiffany Stecker and Christa Marshall, E&E reporters • Posted: Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Senate is slated to vote on an amendment this morning to bar the Obama administration from implementing its new rule defining the reach of the Clean Water Act.

The vote comes as chamber leaders look to finish their first spending bill of the year, to fund energy and water programs, in the coming days.

Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said he expected lawmakers to vote on several amendments before heading out for the weekend. He called on colleagues to file proposed changes to the $37.5 billion bill by 1 p.m.

“If we can do that, we can finish the bill early next week,” he said, adding that the goal was to handle the bill by consensus. “That’s the old-fashioned way of doing a bill. We’d like to set a good example for the other 11 bills that are coming.”

Ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said she and Alexander were looking for a quick finish. “I don’t think it’s going to be long,” she told E&E Daily last night. “We’re very intent on showing that regular order can work and we can get back to it and get it done.”

The Senate so far appears to have heeded yesterday’s call by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) to show “restraint” in filing unrelated controversial amendments to the bill (E&ENews PM, April 20). As of last night, lawmakers had filed several dozen amendments.

Senators voted 70-26 to adopt an amendment by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) to boost funding for the Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy to $325 million, an increase of more than $30 million from the base bill.

An amendment by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) to strike funds for the Appalachian Regional Commission, Delta Regional Authority, Denali Commission and Northern Border Regional Commission fell by a 25-71 margin.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) filed an amendment to increase wind funding in DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy to $95.4 million, an increase from last year’s level.

The Senate bill would cut wind funding to $80 million, along with several other clean energy and renewable efforts in the office. The White House asked for more than $150 million for DOE’s wind program.

In a statement yesterday, the American Wind Energy Association slammed the proposed cuts, saying they would slash the program $27 million below the fiscal 2015 level and threaten near-term initiatives and efforts to improve wind turbine technology.

“Decreasing funding for the DOE Wind Energy Program harms our country’s ability to continue advancing wind energy technology and keep more money in the pockets of millions of Americans,” said AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan. “To maximize America’s wind energy potential, we urge Congress to, at a minimum, fund this critical program at its [fiscal] 2015 level.”

The Senate will likely take up an amendment from Alexander to outline the use of licensing fees at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and specify amounts to be used on salaries and expenses from licensing fees and inspection services. It also calls for funding to develop regulatory infrastructure for advanced nuclear reactor technologies.

Lawmakers also introduced several water-related amendments, including one by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) calling on the Bureau of Reclamation to study irrigation projects in Indian Country. Another by Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would allocate more funding for aquatic ecosystem restoration.