House appropriators released their 2012 energy and water bill today, proposing to spend $30.6 billion in fiscal 2012 through a series of cuts to major programs that pares back overall spending nearly to 2006 levels.
"The Committee has taken a hard look at each and every line in this bill to make sure that we are prioritizing taxpayer dollars in programs that have the most benefit to the American people, while cutting back funding for programs that we simply cannot afford or that are not performing up to snuff," Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said in a statement.
"In this time of budget crisis, we have to make tough, sometimes unpopular decisions to rein in budgets in order to get our economy back on track," Rogers added.
The proposal, which will be marked up in subcommittee tomorrow, would fund major Energy Department programs at $24.7 billion, $850 million below last year's levels and $5.9 billion below the president's request.
The bill would provide $35 million for Yucca Mountain-related activities, in a repudiation of the Obama administration's efforts to end consideration of the long-term storage of nuclear waste at the Nevada site. It also would provide $10 million for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to continue its review of the Yucca license application and would bar the use of funds to close down study of the site.
The bill would provide $1.3 billion -- $491 million below last year's levels and $1.9 billion below the president's request -- for renewable energy and energy efficiency programs, drawing stiff criticism from Democrats. The measure would increase funding by $32 million to $477 million for research on advanced coal, natural gas and other fossil energy generation technologies; but would reduce funding for solar, fuel efficient vehicle, green building and biomass technologies.
The Army Corps of Engineers -- a perennial favorite of lawmakers -- would receive $4.8 billion, $89 million less than last year but $195 million above the president's request.
DOE nuclear security programs would be largely spared under the bill with a $10.6 billion budget that, together with the reallocation of unused prior-year funds, would amount to a $147 million increase over last year, the committee said. But spending would be $1 billion below the president's request for DOE's defense activities.
Science research would take a slight hit under the proposal, falling $43 million from last year's level to $4.8 billion. The administration had proposed increasing science research funding to $5.4 billion as part of a larger effort to double such spending over a period of several years.
Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) described the bill as "fair," saying it reflects current budget realities while directing critical funding to the highest priority issues -- national defense, via the nuclear program spending, and innovation and competitiveness.
But Appropriations Committee ranking member Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) said he would not support such deep cuts.
"The 'cut-at-any-cost' mantra that has overtaken the Republican majority has severely hindered our committee's ability to produce bills that adhere to principles of good governance," Dicks said in a statement.
"This bill contains inadequate funding levels for fuel efficiency initiatives, the Army Corps budget, and environmental cleanup. ... I'll remind my colleagues at every point possible in this appropriations process: I'll do whatever I can to assist in the procedure of this year's Appropriations bills. However, the low funding levels for so many programs that are necessary for national security and protection of our communities prevents me from supporting this bill," he added.
Dicks said despite the fact that roughly half the bill would go to defense-related spending, it might still be insufficient to meet national security needs, given the current instability in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world.
He also said restrictions on funding for the enforcement of Davis Bacon wage rate requirements and the Clean Water Act pose problems.
As expected, the bill reflects Republican rejection of the administration's attempts to shutter the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. The Obama administration has pulled support for constructing a nuclear waste dump there and appointed a blue ribbon commission to study alternatives for storing the hazardous material.
The bill would provide $4.9 billion for the Energy Department's defense environmental cleanup program to remediate soil and groundwater at sites contaminated by previous nuclear weapons production, $42 million below fiscal 2011 levels.
Dicks said cuts at that level would affect more than a half-century of national security nuclear activity and negatively affect the agency's ability to meet regulatory commitments.
The bill would allot DOE a total of $10.6 billion to oversee the country's nuclear weapons stockpile, promoting nonproliferation and activities tied to naval reactors. Dicks criticized the bill for providing $2.06 billion for nuclear nonproliferation, a dip of $463 million from the president's request, saying it could jeopardize national security.
Water spending flows
The bill would hand slightly more money to the Army Corps -- about 4.2 percent -- than President Obama proposed in his 2012 budget earlier this year.
That is not unusual: The president typically low-balls Congress in his Army Corps spending plan with the expectation that lawmakers will pile on more spending for select flood control, navigation and ecosystem restoration projects.
Even so, at $4.768 billion, the Army Corps appropriation would roll back agency spending to less than the 2005 level. That is about $88 million, or 1.8 percent, less than what was enacted last year and $677 million, or 12.4 percent, less than was finalized in 2010.
Republicans noted there are "no congressionally earmarked projects" in the bill.
Given the public outcry over earmarks, lobbying for individual projects has been directed to the agency itself. The budget would provide "a limited amount" of discretionary funds to the agency to continue flood control and navigation projects as the Army Corps sees fit, according to the committee.
GOP committee staff also noted that the budget does not fund all presidentially requested projects for the Army Corps, instead redirecting $59 million to navigation and flood control activities "that will have a more immediate impact on job creation and the economy."
Likewise, GOP appropriators proposed sending $971 million, or $47 million less than President Obama sought, for the Bureau of Reclamation. That is $47 million less than last year's budget, an 8.5 percent cut.
Department of Interior water programs would be slashed $117 million from the president's request to $934 million, a 14.6 percent decrease from the 2011 level.
Dicks invoked the lessons of Hurricane Katrina in criticizing the cutbacks in spending on the Army Corps and water projects.
"In 2005, when flooding devastated the city of New Orleans, the message was loud and clear: Going forward we must protect vulnerable areas with sound infrastructure investments or risk greater humanitarian and fiscal repercussions," he said. "Since then we've spent more federal money rebuilding New Orleans than we have in nearly three years on every other water project in the country. We did not make the proper initial investments, and we should have learned from that mistake."
Click here for the spending bill proposal.
Click here for a summary table of the bill.