House energy, water project earmarks on the rise

By George Cahlink | 06/28/2022 06:36 AM EDT

A conservative Republican secured the most money in House Energy-Water bill earmarks.

Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas).

Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas) secured hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks in fiscal 2023 spending legislation. Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

This story was updated at 4 p.m. EDT.

House appropriators are poised to approve legislation today that would more than double earmark spending for the Department of Energy and Army Corps of Engineers.

The House Appropriations Committee is on track to approve more than $750 million in earmarks, also known as community project funding, as part of a $56.2 billion, fiscal 2023 Energy-Water bill.


Those earmarks include:

  • About $630 million for 75 Army Corps of Engineers projects.
  • $117 million for 64 Department of Energy projects.
  • About $25 million for six Bureau of Reclamation water projects.

This proposed spending is more than $400 million over the House’s fiscal 2022 earmarks total and over half of the overall, $1.3 billion Energy-Water earmark funding included in the final omnibus that passed this year (E&E Daily, May 17).

The Senate has yet to release its earmarks for fiscal 2023, though the chamber included far more than the House for the current fiscal year. Once added in final negotiations in the coming months, the Senate earmarks should push the final figure well above the fiscal 2022 total.

The report accompanying the House Energy-Water bill, released yesterday, said this year’s earmarks would “ensure continued improvements to water resources infrastructure, including resiliency, that benefit the national economy, public safety, and environmental health.”

The document notes the dollars were either not in the White House request or were “inadequately budgeted.”

Appropriators say they have seen far more earmark requests for fiscal 2023 than last year, when member-directed spending was revived for the first time in about a decade.

They attribute the increase to nearly all members making requests receiving them earlier this year and congressional leaders expanding the number of earmarks House members can request from 10 to 15.

Texas Republican leads pack

Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas), a conservative who did not request any earmarks last year, secured two in the latest Energy-Water bill for massive water projects worth a combined $258 million. Neither were requested in any form by the White House, and they are the largest earmarks in the bill.

Weber’s biggest request is $167.4 million for deepening the Sabine-Neches Waterway in southeastern Texas from 40 feet to 48 feet, a move authorized by the 2014 Water Resources Development Act. In his request, Weber noted, the waterway leads the nation in transporting liquid natural gas exports and argued expanding it would benefit the United States and its allies.

Weber also secured $90.6 million for deepening the 7.5-mile channel in Freeport Harbor, Texas, up to as much as 56 feet. He said the channel ranks 19th nationally in total cargo tonnage moved and is a short distance from deep water off the Texas coast.

While granting Weber’s funding, House appropriators cut both requests to less than half of what the Texas lawmaker had initially sought. It’s a sign that although appropriators want to fund most projects, there are limits to their largesse.

Other top Army Corps earmarks included efforts that received money this year, including: $49.3 million for an Upper Mississippi River project sought by Reps. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), Sam Graves (R-Mo.), Darin LaHood (R-Ill.) and Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.); $40 million for the Everglades Restoration Project sought by Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.); and $31 million for the Morganza to the Gulf Project sought by Rep. Garrett Graves (R-La.) and House Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).

DOE earmarks were far smaller than Army Corps ones. Most were funded at less than $3 million.

The largest was a request from Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) for $10 million to establish a pilot project at Auburn University to enhance the cybersecurity of the nation’s electricity system. He said the funding would allow for creating a regional operations center in partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Some of the DOE earmarks focused on renewable energy.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) secured a $3.8 million DOE grant for building a solar collection and energy storage system at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. In her request, she said it would produce as much as 10,000 kilowatt-hours of solar energy.

NOAA, FEMA, USDA earmarks

House appropriators are also expected to back a $85.7 million Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill today that will carry more than $400 million in earmarks.

NOAA would receive $55.7 million in 29 proposed earmarks, nearly all going to universities or other nonprofit groups, like the Nature Conservancy, for research and other work related to oceans and the environment.

The largest NOAA earmark, secured by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), would provide $9.7 million for developing a coastal subsurface system for monitoring threats from saltwater to the infrastructure of near-shore cities.

Another $5.2 million in NOAA earmarks would go toward coral research with an eye toward combating disease and bleaching.

The bulk of CJS earmarks, valued at $225.2 million, would go toward various grant programs aimed at enhancing public safety and reforming the justice system. Many of the grants are less than $1 million and would go toward new technology for local law enforcement agencies.

House appropriators approved two spending bills last week — the Agriculture and Homeland Security measures — that contain hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks.

The Homeland Security spending bill carries nearly 100 earmarks valued at $247.5 million.

Those earmarks are spit between two specific FEMA grant programs: the Emergency Operations Center program, aimed at improving emergency management and response, and the pre-disaster mitigation program, designed for helping communities prepare for and reduce risk from natural disasters.

Weber again was a top earmark recipient in the Homeland Security bill, winning two $10 million grants for replacing a 100-year-old waterline in Galveston, Texas, and providing a new water storage tank for the city.

Other leading earmarkers were Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.), who got $10 million for extending a seawall in North Wildwood, N.J., and Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), who secured $9.8 million for a flood control project in Houston.

The Agriculture bill includes 134 member earmarks, many focused on rural communities and USDA conservation and research efforts.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) secured $1.5 million for Prairie View A&M University to study climate resiliency in underserved and disadvantaged agriculture communities, and Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) got $2.9 million for Columbia University to study water quality in New York City.