APPROPRIATIONS:

Marquee rules spared from riders in landmark spending agreement

This story was updated at 1:30 p.m. EST.

A massive spending bill unveiled last night leaves President Obama's energy, environment and climate programs largely intact while slightly boosting clean and fossil energy spending and keeping U.S. EPA's budget relatively steady. It also delivers Republicans some minor policy wins that would protect coal mining companies, manufacturers of inefficient light bulbs and nuclear power plants hoping to eventually store their waste at Yucca Mountain.

The fiscal 2014 omnibus appropriations bill fills in the details of a budget agreement reached last month that set a top-line of $1.012 trillion in discretionary spending for this year. It is expected to pass by this weekend, but first, Congress will have to enact a three-day continuing resolution to prevent a shutdown when the current CR expires tomorrow.

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), his Senate counterpart Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and their aides worked furiously over the last month to complete the bill, and both said they hope it heralds a return to regular order in the appropriations process moving forward. Environmental riders were seen as one of the key sticking points toward the end of the process, with Rogers declaring his desire to provide some relief to the coal mining companies that employ so many of his eastern Kentucky constituents.

Mikulski said Democrats did their best to avoid riders in the omnibus.

"We were able to fend off some [environmental riders] and compromise on others," she told reporters yesterday evening, before the bill was released.

While Rogers failed to win language blocking U.S. EPA rules that would limit greenhouse gases, toxic emissions or other pollutants from coal-fired power plants, he did secure language long sought by mountaintop mining interests to prevent President Obama from rewriting George W. Bush-era rules favorable to that industry.

Other policy provisions in the bill include a continuation of the so-called light bulb rider, which prevents the Department of Energy from phasing out the use of incandescent bulbs; a continued ban on climate regulations on the livestock industry; a requirement for the administration to report to Congress on its climate activities; orders for EPA to resolve differences with states over regional haze rules; and continued funding to maintain Yucca Mountain in Nevada as a potential site for nuclear waste disposal, despite the Obama administration's effort to shutter the facility.

After this story published, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) office dismissed House Republicans' claim that the bill continues Yucca funding (Greenwire, Jan. 14).

The provisions wound up in the bill for a variety of reasons, the House chairman said.

"It's policy, it's politics, it's negotiations, it's any number of things," he told reporters before the bill's release.

The budget agreement amounted to an overall increase of $45 billion compared to last year, and that funding helped several agencies avoid deep spending cuts that were pursued in House-passed bills. For example, overall spending on energy and water programs landed around the $34 billion target established in an earlier Senate bill to fund those programs, $4 billion above where House Republicans had initially set the target. Still, the omnibus generally offered larger increases to fossil energy and nuclear security programs. The energy and water bill passed the full House but was never considered on the Senate floor after coming out of committee.

In the case of U.S. EPA, Interior Department and related programs, which are funded under a separate title, the omnibus provides about $30 billion -- less than $1 billion below the Senate target and nearly $6 billion more than a House bill would have provided. Neither chamber's Interior-environment spending bill made it out of committee.

DOE

DOE's energy programs would receive a total of $10.2 billion in the omnibus, down $916 million from the president's budget request. But the omnibus is a definite bright spot compared to sharper cuts House Republicans had initially pushed.

For example, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would receive about $1.9 billion, about $100 million more than it received last year before sequester cuts kicked in. While its appropriation is still far below the $2.8 billion President Obama sought for EERE, it is about twice as much as House Republicans proposed in their initial spending bill for EERE and the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability combined. The offices remain separate in the omnibus, with delivery and reliability receiving about $139 million for non-defense functions.

Meanwhile, DOE's Office of Fossil Energy would receive more than either the House or Senate proposed in their initial spending bills, with $562 million sent its way in the omnibus. That's a $30 million boost from the office's pre-sequester level, $140 million more than the president's budget request and at least $110 million above the first bills from the House and Senate.

The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy -- which would have seen its budget eviscerated by the House -- came away in relatively good shape in the omnibus with a $280 million appropriation. That's $15 million above last year and four times as much as ARPA-E would have received under the House-passed bill, but it was still nearly $100 million below the president's request.

The omnibus also delivered a lifeline to DOE's Weatherization Assistance Program, which advocates said was on life support after a few years of sharply reduced budgets that followed a one-time infusion in the 2009 economic stimulus law. It would receive $174 million, up from $139 million this year but below the $190 million in the Senate bill supporters were pushing for.

EPA

EPA sees its funding cut by $143 million compared to last year, to $8.2 billion, but that is still $47 million above the president's budget request. A summary distributed by Rogers notes that the agency's budget has been reduced $2.1 billion since Republicans took control of the House after the 2010 elections.

Among the more notable line items is a combined $2.35 billion for the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water state revolving funds, which provide low-interest loans to cash-strapped communities for upgrades to their waterworks. That's up from a proposed $1.9 billion in the Obama budget (Greenwire, April 11, 2013).

The Great Lakes Restoration Program also receives full funding, at $300 million, in the bill.

However, EPA regulatory programs face a sharp ax from the appropriators, who rejected Obama's request for an additional $31 million for climate regulations, $23 million for water regulations and $18 million for the agency's regulatory development office, according to the House summary.

Interior

The Interior Department would receive $10.4 billion in the omnibus, an increase of $492 million above the 2013 post-sequestration level.

The bill rejects a handful of Obama administration requests to raise inspections fees for onshore oil and gas drillers and triple the length of time for regulators to review offshore exploration plans, though it does extend Interior's authority to offer petroleum engineers and technicians a higher rate of pay to ensure faster permitting.

It also nixed Obama's proposal to collect $6.5 million in new grazing fees on public lands, a plan that drew intense opposition from Republicans and their ranching constituents.

But Democrats scored a partial victory by ensuring that $306 million would be appropriated to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a keystone priority for the Obama administration, conservation groups and sportsmen.

Though the fund -- which supports acquisition of new federal lands and the conservation of private lands -- is slated to be reduced slightly from 2013 enacted levels, House appropriators had initially proposed cutting it completely.

Forest health advocates also found relief with the temporary extension of stewardship contracting, a popular tool that allows the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to sell 10-year timber contracts and use the proceeds to fund forest restoration projects. The authority is set to expire this week.

The bill also would fully fund the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Fund at $40 million and would offer $452 million for hazardous fuels reduction activities, which is $150 million above the president's budget request. Both programs support rural forest jobs and help reduce the threat of catastrophic fire.

While the bill would provide more than $3.9 billion for firefighting and hazardous fuels reduction activities on federal lands -- meeting the 10-year cost of wildfire suppression -- it does not contain language proposed by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) to fund the largest and most costly wildfires using nondiscretionary emergency funds.

That's likely to frustrate conservation, logging and state forestry groups -- and Wyden -- which had lobbied appropriators to include the language, arguing that the Forest Service has too often had to borrow from its other accounts to fight bigger blazes.

The Forest Service also failed for another year to get Congress to authorize it to combine several forest management programs into one integrated resource restoration fund, which the agency argues would allow it to stretch taxpayer dollars further.

Here's how other Interior agencies fared:

  • BLM would be funded at $1.1 billion, $7 million above the 2013 enacted level.
  • The National Park Service would be funded at $2.6 billion, an increase of $28.5 million over the 2013 enacted level.
  • The Fish and Wildlife Service would be funded at $1.4 billion, $32 million below the 2013 enacted level.

Coal and mining

The proposed spending bill is a win for coal and mining interests. For one, they succeeded in inserting a provision to prevent the Army Corps of Engineers from changing the definition of fill material.

Though neither EPA nor the Army Corps has said it is working on any such rewrite, environmental advocates on coal and hardrock mining issues have for years been lobbying for tougher restrictions on the dumping of fill.

The proposal includes more than $46 million for speeding up the Army Corps' Clean Water Act Section 404 dredge-and-fill permits, which affect coal and mining and have been the source of much debate.

Beyond speeding up the permitting, the funding requires the Army Corps and EPA to provide monthly reports to Congress on Section 404 permitting and projects under review.

The Office of Surface Mining would receive about $150 million under the proposal, including $69 million in state grants to prevent the Obama administration from slapping the industry with new fees.

"Further, the agreement does not provide funds to expand and enhance federal oversight activities of State programs," said a summary of the omnibus bill.

In another move to roll back the Obama administration's regulatory agenda related to coal and climate, the bill would prevent the U.S. Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation from blocking overseas coal plant projects that are deemed to have a positive impact on U.S. trade or employment.

In his Georgetown University speech on climate last year, the president vowed to cut international funding for coal plants that don't meet certain pollution standards. The Export-Import Bank followed through with rule revisions.

The legislation presses EPA to continue working with air polluting industries, including coal power plants, and states on plans to reduce haze.

When it comes to coal-related research, the omnibus includes more than $390 million for carbon capture and storage research and development, a boost from current levels, and aims to promote the viability of coal-fired power.

The agreement allows for CCS research funding for natural gas "as long as such research does not occur at the expense of coal research and development." It also includes no funding for a White House proposal to award federal funding to a natural gas project with carbon capture.

Beyond coal, the spending bill would provide $25 million for the Critical Materials Energy Innovation Hub within the Energy Department. Another provision aims at making sure the Forest Service provides "reasonable" access to Alaska mining projects, including for rare earth elements.

When it comes to mine safety, the Mine Safety and Health Administration would receive almost $376 million. The figure is below Obama's request but comparable to current levels.

Transportation

The bill would provide $1.6 billion for rail programs, a cut of $34.6 million from the last enacted levels. However, it would rescind nearly $2 million in funding for the nation's high-speed rail program, slashing a first term effort by the White House to build up new bullet train infrastructure. It also would rescind $4.4 million for improvements to the Northeast Corridor, the nation's most heavily traveled rail corridor, where Amtrak is working to boost speeds.

The budget also would impose new restrictions on Amtrak, including prohibiting federal funding for routes where Amtrak offers more than a 50 percent discount off peak fares.

The Federal Transit Administration would pull in $2.15 billion, $100 million below its fiscal 2013 level, but would see $8.6 billion in state and local grant funding from the Mass Transit Account.

Reporters Jason Plautz and Annie Snider contributed.

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