Senate would boost energy research, water programs

Source: Christa Marshall, Ariel Wittenberg and Sam Mintz, E&E News reporters • Posted: Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A Senate panel advanced a $43.77 billion energy and water bill today that splits sharply from President Trump in boosting spending on science research and innovation.

By voice vote, the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee passed legislation that would provide record funding for the Department of Energy Office of Science and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. The Office of Science oversees the majority of the national labs.

ARPA-E funding would rise to $375 million from the current $353 million. Science programs would receive $6.65 billion, up from the current $6.3 billion.

“There seems to be a bipartisan consensus on the importance of science and research,” said Subcommittee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) during today’s markup.

Alexander said he would discuss the White House budget proposals with Trump, who has called for eliminating ARPA-E twice. The president might want to add science and innovation to his “America first” agenda, Alexander said.

Ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) criticized provisions on nuclear weapons but called the overall text a “balanced bill.”

“It continues investments in clean energy technologies that will help combat the effects of climate change,” she said this afternoon.

A significant portion of the new science funding in the Senate bill would go toward upgraded infrastructure at the national laboratories.

The bill would fund the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at $2.3 billion, about the same as current levels. The total includes funding for weatherization and $509 million for renewables.

In writing their bill, Senate appropriators also split from the House, which called for $2.1 billion for EERE (Greenwire, May 16). The Senate plan would also increase fossil research to $727 million, about $183,000 above current levels.

Nuclear waste

As in past years, the Senate legislation includes a pilot program for consolidated nuclear waste storage, as well as funding to support DOE storing waste temporarily at private facilities, but leaves out money for the licensing process for Yucca Mountain, a contentious proposed permanent waste repository in Nevada.

The House energy and water spending bill, which passed the Appropriations Committee earlier this month, does include funding for the Nevada facility, a frequent disagreement between the two chambers.

The Senate bill also includes $1.2 billion for the Office of Nuclear Energy, more than $400 million above the budget request. Environmental cleanup efforts would receive $7.2 billion, an increase of $56 million.

Despite the House wanting to cut money for renewables, efficiency and ARPA-E, the spending bills are closer to each other this year in several ways.

Last year, for example, the House voted to eliminate ARPA-E entirely. This year, House appropriators would fund the agency at $325 million.

Congressional money managers have a bigger money pot now because of a March spending accord that raised non-defense discretionary caps.


On water, the Senate bill funds the Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works division at $6.9 billion, increasing the operation and maintenance budget by $110 million above the previous fiscal year.

The bill would also fund Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund activities at $1.53 billion, $86 million above a spending target for this fiscal year enacted in the 2014 Water Resources Reform and Development Act.

The Army Corps’ construction account would also be increased by $74 million from fiscal 2018 levels, allowing for full use of the inland waterways trust fund.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) praised the bill for its funding of the inland waterways trust fund, saying inland waterways are “extremely important to my state.”

“It’s nice to see us use [the trust fund] as it should be used,” he said.

The Bureau of Reclamation would receive $1.478 billion in the bill, including $196 million in additional funding for drought resilience activities.

It’s currently unclear whether the bill includes language similar to that in the House energy and water appropriations bill repealing the Obama administration’s Clean Water Rule.

The Senate Appropriations Committee only released a summary of the bill’s “highlights” today. The committee typically releases the full text of its bills following full committee markups. That meeting is scheduled for Thursday morning.