Senate subpanel approves energy, water spending bill

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Senate Appropriations subcommittee unanimously approved a fiscal 2013 energy and water spending bill today that would boost funding for clean energy and water infrastructure and authorize the Energy Department to begin finding temporary sites to store nuclear waste.

The Senate Energy and Water Development Subcommittee’s $33.4 billion proposal would fund DOE, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation. It is $373 million below current spending levels and $352 million below President Obama’s fiscal 2013 spending request.

The full Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to take up the legislation Thursday.

The bill represents a more generous approach to clean energy and renewables than competing legislation moving through the House. The full House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to mark up its energy and water spending measure tomorrow, which would cut DOE funding for renewables and energy efficiency (E&E Daily, April 23).

Senate Republicans on the subcommittee today generally warmed to the legislation but pointed out areas where they would have liked to see more funding.

The Senate bill would provide DOE with $27 billion, $1.38 billion above current spending levels, to accelerate development of new energy technologies and decrease the country’s dependence on foreign oil. DOE’s Office of Science would receive $4.9 billion, $35 million above current spending levels.

The legislation also would set aside $1.98 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy — an increase of $160 million from fiscal 2012 — to advance solar, biomass and vehicle technologies. The agency would receive $143 million, a boost of $4 million compared to fiscal 2012 levels, for ensuring and studying energy and electric reliability.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) applauded the inclusion of funding to study offshore wind development but added that more money should have been included for weatherizing homes.

DOE would receive $793 million for nuclear energy, an increase of $31 million above 2012 levels, including a pot of money for the agency to study small nuclear reactors and implement a new pilot project on siting interim storage sites for storing nuclear waste. Unlike the House measure, the legislation did not include money to advance the controversial and now abandoned nuclear waste repository under Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

The Army Corps would receive about $5 billion, which is $276 million above the president’s fiscal 2013 request and $5 million above current spending levels. The increase in funding would bolster the corps’ spending for operations, maintenance, construction and regulatory programs.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the subpanel, said the legislation allows the Army Corps for the first time since 2009 to start new projects for ecosystem restoration and flood control.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) expressed concerns about how the Army Corps’ process for distributing money to states would change and possibly hand states like California more money than South Carolina, New Jersey and Washington. Shelby said he may introduce an amendment during the full committee markup to require the corps to submit a study to Congress before changing the way it allocates money to states.

The Bureau of Reclamation would receive about $1 billion, $15 million above what the president requested but $27 million below the current spending level.

The legislation would also provide $150 million for research at a uranium enrichment project in Piketon, Ohio.

Nuclear waste provision

The bill also would allow Energy Secretary Steven Chu to launch a pilot program to license and build one or more interim fuel storage sites for commercial spent nuclear fuel and military nuclear waste.

Chu currently has no authority to pursue storage sites for commercial spent fuel, even though about 65,000 metric tons have been produced at reactors around the country, Feinstein said.

She said the language is “very limited” and only a first step before Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) releases more comprehensive legislation to address nuclear waste storage. Feinstein is working with Bingaman and other senators to draft the legislation to address recommendations from President Obama’s Blue Ribbon Commission on how to store and dispose of nuclear waste.

DOE has failed to meet its legal obligation to dispose of the waste, which will add up to $20 billion in liability for taxpayers by 2020 and increase by $500 million every following year thereafter, Feinstein said. She said it is crucial to get hot, spent waste away from aging reactors that may have safety problems.

“The future of the nuclear industry is called into question if we do not have a means of addressing spent fuel,” Feinstein said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) agreed that storage of nuclear waste must be addressed to secure the future of nuclear power in the United States. Murkowski said it is important that Chu be able to move ahead with a pilot project before more comprehensive legislation is released.