House debate to feature rifts over renewables, climate

By George Cahlink, Tiffany Stecker, Christa Marshall | 05/23/2016 07:00 AM EDT

The House could pass a $37.4 billion fiscal 2017 energy and water spending bill later this week, but only after partisan fights over renewable energy and climate change policies, and possible amendments related to the California drought and Flint water crisis.

The House could pass a $37.4 billion fiscal 2017 energy and water spending bill later this week, but only after partisan fights over renewable energy and climate change policies, and possible amendments related to the California drought and Flint water crisis.

The legislation, H.R. 5055, heads to the Rules Committee this evening and should be on the floor by midweek.

It will be the second spending bill the House has taken up this year. The Senate passed its own $37.5 billion version of the legislation, H.R. 2028, two weeks ago (E&ENews PM, May 12).


Leaders of the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee said they expected bipartisan progress on the bill. At the same time, they did not rule out contentious debates popping up, especially with spending bills moving under an open rule that allows any member to offer a relevant amendment on the floor. The Rules Committee will discuss the legislation this evening.

"Anything can happen in this environment," said ranking member Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) last week after a controversial amendment nearly stalled the bipartisan military construction and veterans affairs spending bill.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said last week that more contentious votes could come on spending bills. "People have got to get used to that fact. That’s the way regular order works," he added.

Democrats are likely to push back against language in the legislation to limit the administration’s Clean Water Act jurisdiction rule, deep cuts to renewable energy programs and reductions to spending on climate change research.

They could also try to revive an amendment that faltered in committee to tack on hundreds of millions of dollars to address the Flint, Mich., lead water crisis.

The White House is likely to issue a veto threat over the bill’s rejection of the administration’s Mission Innovation initiative to double energy research and development funding over five years.

The House spending bill would fund the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at $1.825 billion, about a billion below the White House request.

Philanthropists and a host of countries announced Mission Innovation during the recent Paris climate talks. The plan is considered critical for the White House’s agenda to tackle global warming, but so far appropriators in both chambers have denied funding much of the administration’s request.

Like the Senate version, the House bill was more generous to the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and DOE’s Office of Science compared to other programs that support efficiency, renewables and clean energy research, all central to Mission Innovation.

The two agencies have significant bipartisan support, partly because of their connection with the national labs. House appropriators are calling for a $306 million funding level for ARPA-E, a $15 million increase from last year’s level but lower than the Senate bill and White House request.

DOE’s Office of Science, which oversees the majority of the national nuclear laboratories, would receive a boost in the House measure from last year’s record funding level of $5.35 billion to $5.4 billion.

There’s a gap between the two chambers on fossil energy research, with the House bill calling for a much higher level. The House language would increase funding $35 million over last year’s level, including for research on carbon capture and sequestration technologies.

Water funding

The spending bill would boost funding for the Army Corps of Engineers’ to a record $6.1 billion — $100 million more than the fiscal 2016 enacted level and $1.5 billion over the president’s budget request.

The proposal includes $2.7 billion for navigation projects and studies, and $1.26 billion for the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, about $63 million more than fiscal 2016.

It also includes $1.8 billion for flood and storm-damage reduction activities, an increase of $105 million above fiscal 2016 and $582 million above the administration’s budget proposal.

The measure continues an upward spending trend for the agency, which designs and builds locks, dams, flood control projects and environmental restoration initiatives.

Despite the boost, lawmakers from both parties could still offer amendments aimed at benefiting federal water developments in their districts at the expense of other programs.

Debate on the energy and water spending bill comes as lawmakers deliberate over the latest Water Resources Development Act to authorize the Army Corps’ public works projects. The Senate passed its version of WRDA out of committee last month, and the House released its version Friday (see related story).

The Bureau of Reclamation would receive $1.1 billion in the spending bill, $131 million less than the fiscal 2016 level and $27 million more than the president’s request.

Reclamation manages water resources in the West, overseeing often contentious water diversions. The agency is central to the discussion on alleviating water restrictions in California’s drought, where federal protections for threatened fish species have limited pumping to the agriculture-rich Central Valley.

California lawmakers could offer amendments to address the ongoing drought. Already, at the behest of California’s Republican lawmakers, the bill includes provisions to allow flexibility in the operations of the state’s major water projects in periods of heavy rainfall, like last winter’s El Niño-driven storms.

The bill also includes a number of riders to restrict the administration’s authority to claim jurisdiction over certain bodies of water under the Clean Water Act. Democrats might push back against those, too.

House Republicans added several provisions to the bill designed to push back against administration actions they see as regulatory overreach.

The legislation would bar the administration from changing the definition of fill material, a step that could restrict permits for activities like mining. Another provision would stop agencies from requiring permits for routine farming and ranching activities, like harvesting or irrigation ditch construction.

Ohio lawmakers added a provision to block the Army Corps from dropping dredged material into Lake Erie. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) included a similar amendment in the Senate energy and water spending bill.

The state of Ohio opposes the Army Corps’ attempts to dispose of the dredge material from river bottoms in the lake, saying the sediment is polluted and would threaten fisheries.

Schedule: The Rules meeting is Monday, May 23, at 5 p.m. in H-313.