The Senate this afternoon will begin debate on a $34.3 billion fiscal 2010 energy and water spending bill as environmental groups press lawmakers to strip provisions they say will damage wetlands and fish habitat in Missouri.
Overall, the Senate bill, S. 1436, would provide $27.4 billion to the Energy Department, $5.4 billion to the Army Corps of Engineers and $1.1 billion to the Interior Department's Bureau of Reclamation.
The amendment picture was not clear at press time, however a coalition of environmental groups was pressing for changes they say are necessary to protect fish and wetlands near the Mississippi River in Missouri.
In a July 23 letter, the groups urged Senate leaders to remove two bill riders that would shift $3.9 million from a fish restoration project in southern Missouri to the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project, a flood control program.
"These provisions would obstruct compliance with a federal court order by rescinding FY 2009 funds the corps intends to use to deconstruct structures to restore the habitat and the channel of the St. Johns River," said the letter, which was sent last week to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and signed by officials from the Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society and eight other groups.
The corps should use the money to undo environmental damage caused by the initial construction of a floodplain project that a federal judge later ruled illegal, the letter said.
The DOE spending plan steers $2.23 billion into renewable energy and efficiency programs, compared to $1.93 billion in fiscal 2009. However, that amount is less than the $2.32 billion in the White House spending request.
The bill bucks an administration request to end funding for hydrogen-powered vehicles research and development, instead including $190 million for hydrogen programs overall.
The bill also substantially scales back a DOE plan to create eight multidisciplinary "energy innovation hubs" funded through various program areas. It blocks five outright, while blessing one focusing on modeling and simulation, noting in report language that "advanced computing and simulation can play a critical role in developing advanced fuels and modeling reactor performance."
Two other programs -- on Fuels From Sunlight and Energy Efficient Building Systems -- would receive $22 million each if the administration uses $44 million from the recent stimulus law for the South Table Mountain Ingress/Egress and Traffic Capacity Upgrades project at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. This would free up the $22 million for each proposed hub, the report states.
Other funding levels include $4.9 billion for the Office of Science, $761 million for nuclear energy programs, about $700 million for fossil energy programs, and $5.76 billion for cleanup of DOE nuclear sites.
The bill's report language also includes language that says lawmakers expect DOE to suspend a fee the nuclear industry pays to the federal government to remove and permanently store nuclear waste (E&E Daily, July 21).
The spending bill allots $5.4 billion to the Army Corps of Engineers' civil works program but funds no new projects starts, a move likely to spark amendments from lawmakers eager to win money for new parochial projects.
The Appropriations Committee received 256 funding requests from senators for new civil works projects or studies but elected to award none because of a $60 billion existing backlog of authorized Army Corps programs.
"The committee believes that recommending new starts in this budget environment would be imprudent," the committee bill report says. "These new starts would get over the 'new start' hurdle, only to face a budget that cannot accommodate all of these needs. One has to ask, is it more prudent to start a project, or to adequately fund those that have been started?"
The budget proposal is $280 million higher than the president requested for the agency and slightly lower than the $5.5 billion bill cleared by the House.
The Senate bill provides about $2.5 billion for maintaining and operating existing Army Corps programs, $61 million less than the House measure and $54 million less than the president's request.
It allots $340 million for flood-damage reduction projects in the Mississippi River Valley, $89 million more than the House approved. Both numbers are lower than fiscal 2009 spending levels and higher than the administration's request for the line item.
Bureau of Reclamation
The appropriations bill would give the Bureau of Reclamation about $1.1 billion, a $93 million boost from the House version and $110 million more than the president requested.
Reclamation's water account would see a $73 million jump to $993 million. The account finances water development, management and restoration in the 17 Western states.
The California Bay-Delta Restoration account, which is aimed at improving water quality and reliability in the San Joaquin River Delta, would garner $41 million, and the Central Valley Project Restoration Fund would win $35 million under the measure.
Click here to read the letter from the environmental groups.