House bill would slash key DOE programs

Source: Geof Koss and Christa Marshall, E&E News reporters • Posted: Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Department of Energy research and renewable energy programs would see a major funding reduction under the fiscal 2018 House energy-water appropriations bill released today, while the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) would be eliminated entirely.

The $37.5 billion bill, set for subcommittee markup this morning, would give DOE $209 million less than the fiscal 2017 spending level but $3.65 billion above the administration’s request, according to a GOP summary.

Funding priorities in the proposal include nuclear weapons activities and energy and water infrastructure, the summary said.

Nuclear weapons programs would see $13.9 billion under the bill, which House appropriators say equals a nearly $1 billion boost above fiscal 2017 enacted levels.

That amount includes $340 million for construction of South Carolina’s Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, a perennial source of tension between Congress and the executive branch.

Energy programs at DOE would see $9.6 billion next year under the bill, an amount the committee says represents a $1.7 billion cut from fiscal 2017 enacted levels but $2.3 billion more than the administration had sought.

The summary says the legislation prioritizes “early-stage research and development funding for the applied energy programs,” intended to help advance “the nation’s goal of an ‘all-of-the-above’ solution to energy independence.”

In a statement, House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) noted the tight budget environment in which the measure was written.

“This bill prioritizes fulfilling our national security needs and maintaining critical investments to support American competitiveness within tight budget caps,” he said. “It strikes a responsible balance between the modernization and safety of our nuclear weapons, advancing our national infrastructure, and strategic investments in basic science and energy R&D.”

Zero dollars for ARPA-E

ARPA-E, a DOE office that funds innovative energy research and enjoys broad bipartisan support, is slated for elimination under the House bill.

That’s likely to face pushback in the Senate, where last week Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said eliminating ARPA-E is “not what we are going to do.” The agency currently is funded at about $300 million.

The House spending bill would increase funding for the Office of Science — which oversees the national labs — and research at the Office of Fossil Energy beyond President Trump’s request.

The Office of Science would receive $5.4 billion, the same as in fiscal 2017. Fossil energy research and development would get $636 million.

“This funding supports basic energy research, the development of high-performance computing systems and research in the next generation of energy sources,” the committee said.

Fossil research received $668 million in fiscal 2017. The office directs much of DOE’s research on carbon capture and sequestration technology.

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would be funded at $1.1 billion, a cut by half from this year’s enacted level of $2.1 billion. The Trump administration had called for a larger cut of EERE, to $636 million.

In a statement, House appropriators said renewable energy programs “have already received significant investments in recent years.”

Environmentalists disagree, saying EERE plays a critical role in lowering renewable costs for a low initial investment. The office also oversees efficiency standards for buildings and appliances, which supporters say saves consumers billions of dollars while cutting emissions.

Yucca Mountain, Russia

House Republicans seized on President Trump’s embrace of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository that’s stalled in Nevada.

The spending bill includes $90 million to advance the project northwest of Las Vegas, which the Obama administration deemed unworkable under the watchful eye of former Senate Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, a fierce opponent.

According to the bill, money would come from the Nuclear Waste Fund. The House measure would also provide $30 million for DOE’s work on disposing of defense-related nuclear waste and $30 million for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to continue Yucca permitting activities.

The bill also lays out individual percentages that affected counties in Nevada would receive for hosting Yucca Mountain. Should the funding fail to be distributed, local officials would be cut off from future dispersals.

Furthermore, the spending bill stipulates that any money counties receive cannot be spent on litigation, interim storage or activities inconsistent with the legislation.

The bill does not otherwise include any money or language addressing interim storage of nuclear waste — a hot issue for senators eager to see solutions move forward given that Yucca could take years to complete.

House lawmakers are already moving forward with legislation to jump-start the repository, and boosters have applauded Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s backing.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) in an op-ed yesterday said Yucca’s success is directly tied to removing waste from the Hanford Site in Washington state, where an accident occurred earlier this year.

“We’re working towards a durable solution at the Energy and Commerce Committee and rest assured, we will get this waste consolidated and safely stored in its permanent home in Yucca Mountain,” he wrote.

The House bill also includes language that would bar any federally appropriated money from being used to forge new contracts or agreements with Russia related to nuclear nonproliferation projects without approval from the Energy secretary.

Strategic oil reserves

House lawmakers appeared to buck the Trump administration’s push to drain and sell off the nation’s strategic oil reserves along the Gulf of Mexico.

The House bill would set aside $252 million for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve’s operation and maintenance, a slight increase from the fiscal 2017 omnibus spending bill.

The House language would also allow the secretary of Energy to sell off up to $350 million worth of crude from the reserves in fiscal 2018, money that would then be used to carry out upgrades and life extension at the sites.

House support for the SPR is a sharp pivot from the Trump administration’s conclusion the storage facilities are no longer needed and should be drained and sold off (E&E Daily, June 7).

The administration is pushing in its fiscal 2018 budget to sell off half the SPR’s nearly 700 million barrels of oil over the next decade to raise more than $16.6 billion to help cut the deficit.

Army Corps of Engineers

The bill would fund the Army Corps of Engineers at $6.16 billion, more than $1 billion above the Trump administration’s budget request and $120 million above the 2017 enacted level.

That funding includes $2.8 billion for navigation projects and studies, $1.34 billion of which would come from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. Another $1.8 billion would go toward flood and storm damage reduction efforts.

The Bureau of Reclamation’s Upper Colorado River Basin Fund would receive $67.693 million, while the Lower Colorado River Basin Development Fund would receive about $5.5 million.

The House bill reiterates that the Clean Water Act does not apply to farm ponds and irrigation ditches in agricultural areas. That provision is a repeat of one that was passed in the 2017 omnibus bill this spring (Greenwire, May 1).

The legislation also includes a provision authorizing U.S. EPA and the Army Corps to withdraw the Waters of the U.S. rule “without regard to any provision of statute or regulation that establishes a requirement for such withdrawal” (see related story).

Reporters Ariel Wittenberg and Hannah Northey contributed.