House begins sorting through dozens of policy, funding fights

By George Cahlink, Geof Koss | 07/26/2017 07:08 AM EDT

The House will begin considering nearly 50 amendments related to energy and water issues today, including those related to Yucca Mountain and the social cost of carbon.

The full House is set to consider amendments dealing with Department of Energy funding, the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project and Army Corps of Engineers programs.

The full House is set to consider amendments dealing with Department of Energy funding, the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project and Army Corps of Engineers programs. Claudine Hellmuth/E&E News (DOE); Nuclear Regulatory Commission/Flickr (Yucca); William S. Farrow/Army Corps of Engineers

The House will begin considering nearly 50 amendments to its fiscal 2018 energy and water spending bill beginning today, including bids to reverse funding cuts and reshape hot-button policies on Yucca Mountain and the social costs of carbon.

Last night the Rules Committee approved 46 amendments for the energy and water portion of a four-bill spending package that House leaders expect to clear before leaving town at the end of this week for summer recess.

The minibus also includes fiscal 2018 spending for the Defense Department, military construction and veterans affairs, and the legislative branch. Additionally, it contains $1.6 billion in homeland security funding to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a Trump administration priority that continues to raise tensions.


Among the energy and water policy amendments approved for floor consideration last evening are:

  • An amendment by Nevada Democrats to strike language from the spending bill that would bar closure of the the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.
  • An amendment from Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) that would ban considering the social costs of carbon metric in making rules or regulations.
  • An amendment from Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) to remove a rider to exempt the Trump administration’s repeal of the Clean Water Rule from the Administrative Procedure Act.
  • An amendment from Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) to bar any funding for a wind farm project proposed for off the Massachusetts coast. Similar riders have been added to the spending bill in recent years.
  • An amendment from Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) to block implementation of an Obama-era rule setting energy efficiency standards for air conditioners and heat pumps.
  • An amendment from several Democrats that would reverse a ban in the bill on any funding for developing a national ocean policy.

The $37.6 billion energy and water portion of the minibus that would fund the Department of Energy and the Army Corps of Engineers is $203 million less than fiscal 2017 enacted spending levels but $3.2 billion more than requested by the White House.

It would seek a $1 billion cut to DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy as well as a proposal to eliminate the $300 million Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, which funds "high risk" projects.

Several Democratic amendments would aim to reverse cuts to DOE’s energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. Lawmakers from both parties will push to increase various Army Corps accounts, including flood control projects.

House Republicans will also have their first test of the recently revived Holman Rule, a 19th-century procedure that allows for targeting funding for specific federal workers in spending bills.

Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) has offered a Holman proposal that would eliminate 89 employees from the Congressional Budget Office’s budget analysis division by cutting $15 million from the package’s legislative branch section. He and other Republicans have criticized how the nonpartisan CBO scores the cost of bills.

If the CBO cut succeeds, Republicans could try to target other agencies. U.S. EPA is a main target for many members of the congressional majority, including Griffith.

Amendments the Rules Committee rejected for floor consideration include:

  • A bipartisan proposal from Florida Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R) and Kathy Castor (D) that would have banned the Department of Energy from removing the term "climate change" from any of its publications.
  • An amendment from Rep. Neal Dunn (R-Fla.) that would have prevented the Army Corps of Engineers from implementing revised guidelines for management of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, following a ruling in favor of Georgia in the long-running water war between the states and pending further litigation.
  • An amendment from Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) that would have barred Army Corp dollars going toward work on a U.S.-Mexico border wall. Democrats have been introducing similar amendments to other spending bills.

The Rules Committee also sidestepped a highly partisan fight by rejecting a proposal offered by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) that would have barred discrimination in federal contracting based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Similar language helped sink a spending bill last year.


House Republicans continue to plot an endgame to the appropriations process. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said yesterday the four bills in the minibus represented "consensus" within the GOP caucus.

"We do not yet have full consensus on the other eight bills," he told reporters. "That’s what we’re working toward."

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a senior appropriator, said yesterday that GOP leaders will likely attempt to package the minibus with the remaining eight spending bills in September.

However, he acknowledged that moving a minibus now with bills to fund military, veterans, and energy and water projects — all popular with lawmakers — poses a challenge for passing the rest of the politically less-favored spending measures.

"The two biggest engines on the train are defense and veterans and military construction so if you leave the engines off it’s hard to pull the rest of the train," he told reporters. "So hopefully we can marry them back up."

While Republicans have generally had to rely on Democrats to move appropriations bills, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he is urging his members to oppose the minibus, citing the effect it could have on non-defense programs contained in the remaining appropriations bills.

"We’re very, very concerned about that," he told reporters yesterday.

Democrats additionally oppose the $1.6 billion for President Trump’s border wall with Mexico, which Hoyer said will "apparently" be considered adopted when the House votes on the rule for the minibus, a procedural sleight of hand that he termed "irregular order."

However, Cole said the fact that no Democrats have supported the spending bills so far is a selling point for recalcitrant GOP lawmakers. "These are really very conservative bills," he said.

Former Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said yesterday that he believed the minibus is "in good shape" with his fellow House GOP colleagues.

The House is also expected to punt on the fiscal 2018 budget resolution, which Cole said was stalled in part by GOP misgivings about the measure’s reconciliation instructions, which are intended to bypass the need to garner 60 votes in the Senate for tax reform.

Fears over the proposed Border Adjustment Tax that is central to the House’s tax reform plan are part of that problem, said Cole, himself a member of the Budget Committee. Normally the budget would help set funding levels before appropriators write their bills.

"I think we’re making progress," he said, adding that many of his colleagues "haven’t had a chance to look at a lot of this stuff."