Senate Energy-Water Rejects Research Cuts Sought by White House

Stock SectorMay 24, 20187min9
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The Senate Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee advanced by voice vote Tuesday a $43.8 billion draft fiscal 2019 spending measure that, like the House’s bill, does not include drastic reductions in applied research programs proposed by the Trump administration.

The draft legislation, parts of which were made public Tuesday in the committee majority’s summary, represents a $566 million increase from fiscal 2018 enacted appropriations and a $7.2 billion increase from the Trump administration request. The House version would fund the same agencies at $44.7 billion.

“Reaching an agreement was not easy because we started with an unrealistic budget proposal by the administration,” said Energy-Water Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. “Over the last three years, Congress has developed quite a consensus on science and research — that’s both Republicans and Democrats.”

No amendments were considered to the bill during the subcommittee markup. Any amendments, and the text of the bill, will be released at a markup by the full Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

In total, the bill sets aside within the Department of Energy:

  • $14.8 billion for nuclear security programs, $111 million above fiscal 2018 and $311 million below the administration request;
  • $6.7 billion for the Office of Science, $390 million above fiscal 2018 and $1.3 billion above the request;
  • $13.3 billion for energy research programs, $379 million above fiscal 2018 and $9.5 billion above the request.
  • The bill also would allocate the Army Corps of Engineers at $6.9 billion, $100 million above fiscal 2018 and $2.1 billion above the request.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation would be funded at $1.5 billion, $498 million above the request. A topline number for DOE was not provided by the committee.

The bill would prevent big cutbacks in renewable energy and energy efficiency spending proposed by the White House to pay for nuclear weapons modernization efforts. DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would get $2.3 billion, equal to the funding in fiscal 2018.

The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), proposed for outright elimination by the administration, would get $375 million, an increase of $22 million from record levels in fiscal 2018.

The House would fund EERE at $2.1 billion and ARPA-E at $325 million, both cuts from the fiscal 2018 numbers.

“We were able to continue a strong approach to applied energy programs, particularly those that develop carbon-free renewable technologies, make industries more efficient and hopefully more competitive and make our electric grid more resilient,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the subcommittee’s ranking member.

Those spending levels are sure to draw jeers from the administration. In response to the House Appropriations Committee advancing a bill with advanced research funding far above the White House request, the OMB Director Mick Mulvaney suggested in a letter that the House “restrain funding levels in these programs and focus resources on early-stage research and development across the applied energy technology spectrum rather than late stage or near commercial ready technology.”

The bill advanced Tuesday also maintains Senate positions on key nuclear waste policy debates that have stymied House and Senate lawmakers over the past few appropriation cycles.

In place of funding to restart the process of licensing Nevada’s Yucca Mountain as a central repository for U.S. commercial nuclear waste, for which House bill would allocate $268 million, the Senate bill would dedicate a to-be-determined amount for a pilot interim storage facility.

DOE would also be allowed to abandon construction on the mixed oxide fuel fabrication facility in South Carolina in favor of a different disposal alternative for 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium.

The bill does not contain funding for the modernization of a nuclear weapon — the B83 warhead — that Feinstein had opposed during the Department of Energy oversight hearing. She threatened to hold up the bill if the funding was included. The B83 bomb is a weapon with 75 times the yield of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

The nuclear weapons and defense spending within DOE is likely to set up the biggest differences between the two chambers’ bills. The House would fund those activities more in line with the administration’s request, allocating $15.8 billion for the nuclear weapons program.

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