White House threatens to veto energy spending bill

Source: Nick Juliano, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, June 1, 2012

The White House last night issued a veto threat to a pending House spending bill to fund the Department of Energy, the Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies, citing cuts to clean energy promotion and other DOE priorities and “policy riders” that would reopen the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste depository, undo federal building efficiency requirements and block guidance on the Clean Water Act.

President Obama’s advisers “would recommend that he veto the bill,” according to the Office of Management and Budget’s statement of administration policy released last night. The statement came just after the House began general debate on the $32.1 billion energy and water spending bill, which would cut $965 million from the president’s fiscal 2013 request.

No amendments were offered during last night’s session with members simply providing their general views on the bill; Democrats generally decried the lack of support for clean energy development, while Republicans voiced support for investments in fossil fuel research and development, saying the bill would help lower gasoline prices. Members of both parties heartily praised the language aimed at reopening Yucca.

Debate on amendments begins today and is expected to stretch into next week, House leadership aides say. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), who chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, said members and staff had told him of at least 40 planned amendments as of yesterday afternoon, and he expected even more to come.

“There may be 80 by the time we hit the floor,” Frelinghuysen told E&E Daily yesterday afternoon.

Along with the administration’s specific objections to the underlying bill, its policy statement also points to the House’s decision to adopt top-line budget numbers below those agreed to in the bipartisan deal to cut spending and raise the debt ceiling. Passing the energy bill at its current level would mean “significant and harmful cuts” to other areas of the federal budget, the administration said.

Within the energy spending bill itself, the administration criticized a reduction in funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which funds risky research that could lead to breakthrough clean energy technologies; the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE); the Office of Science; and the Energy Information Administration (EIA), DOE’s independent statistical arm.

ARPA-E would get $200 million, a cut of $75 million from last year; EERE would be cut by $428 million compared to fiscal 2012 to $2.3 billion; Science would lose $73 million from last year to $5 billion; and EIA’s funding would fall $5 million from last year to $100 million.

The administration also highlighted some of the “policy riders” it opposed, such as language to prohibit the administration from spending any money furthering efforts to close down the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

The bill also would hinder federal efficiency efforts, the administration said, by blocking funding for a DOE weatherization assistance program and a pending rule related to reduced fossil fuel use in federal buildings (E&E Daily, April 26). The White House said it opposed both of those provisions, arguing, for example, that blocking the federal building requirements would hinder efforts to improve efficiency and “reduce harmful greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions.”

The bill also would block the Army Corps from enforcing pending guidance on how to interpret the Clean Water Act (E&E Daily, April 27). The administration noted that the water act’s scope has been a source of confusion in the wake of key Supreme Court decisions in the last decade and said the guidance would “provide clarity” on which rivers and streams are subject to federal regulations.