The House Appropriations Committee approved an energy and water spending bill yesterday by voice vote after a meeting that erupted into a tense debate about the Flint, Mich., water crisis.
The $37.4 billion energy and water measure would slash efficiency and renewable research programs below the White House request, increase fossil fuel spending and provide a funding boost for the controversial Yucca Mountain nuclear repository in Nevada, a Republican priority.
It also would block the administration from implementing its recent Clean Water Act jurisdictional rule and boost funding for the Army Corps of Engineers to a record $6.1 billion — $100 million more than fiscal 2016 enacted level and $1.5 billion over the president’s budget request.
In opening remarks, committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) praised the bill’s support for nuclear security, science research and coal.
"The bill promotes funding for an all-of-the-above energy strategy — helping our nation work toward energy independence and energy security," said Rogers.
Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) said she was disappointed in cuts to the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), which would be funded at $1.825 billion, about a billion below the White House request.
The office is key to Mission Innovation, a global plan among 20 countries to address climate change by doubling clean energy research and development funding over five years.
Kaptur said proposed cuts to solar power in the House plan would "allow our global competitors to grow their market share at our expense in this rapidly expanding industry, which will be so important to our economic well-being in coming decades."
Outside of increased funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and DOE’s Office of Science, the House bill largely ignores proposed funding increases under Mission Innovation and instead offers cuts to a range of renewable, efficiency and sustainable transportation programs at EERE.
ARPA-E would see an increase to $306 million in the House bill, above levels in a companion Senate bill but below the White House request of $350 million. The agency — which funds cutting-edge technologies in the early stage — enjoys bipartisan support from key appropriators.
The same is true for the science office, which would receive a boost in the House measure from last year’s record funding level of $5.35 billion to $5.4 billion. The office oversees 10 of the national laboratories.
The fossil fuel budget would increase by $13 million to $645 million under the House plan.
The bill would also provide $150 million in funding to revive the Yucca Mountain site, would restore funding for the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility and would increase spending for DOE’s nuclear office and nuclear weapons security programs (E&E Daily, March 23).
House appropriators proposed to restore funding for DOE’s fusion programs to $450 million, more than $50 million above President Obama’s request. Proposed funding cuts to the fusion spending were a sticking point in multiple DOE budget hearings.
Flint relief sparks accusations
The Flint debate erupted with an amendment from Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) to provide aid to help the city recover from its lead-contaminated water crisis. The provision sparked outrage from Republican members, with one lawmaker calling the move a "publicity stunt."
The amendment would have tacked on Michigan Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee’s H.R. 4479 to the spending bill. That legislation would set aside nearly $800 million for the city’s recovery, including funds for lead pipe removal and health services to alleviate the effects of the neurotoxin. The committee rejected the provision by voice vote.
The majority, chiding DeLauro, noted that the energy and water spending legislation does not appropriate funds to U.S. EPA, the Department of Health and Human Services, or other federal agencies involved in the city’s recovery efforts.
"I urge this committee to resist playing the gotcha game and vote no on this amendment that is not related to the energy and water bill," said subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-Idaho).
Democrats shot back. Agriculture Subcommittee ranking member Sam Farr (D-Calif.) accused the GOP of placing a double standard by allowing operational and policy changes to California’s water projects as the state battles drought but refusing to address Flint’s water crisis in water legislation.
"Let’s stop being so partisan in trying to solve emergency crises," he said.
Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota, top Democrat for the Appropriations subcommittee that funds EPA, said she had no assurance that her spending bill would have the ability to include funds for Flint.
The Appropriations Committee has yet to announce the spending cap for the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies fiscal 2017 appropriations bill.
"The reason why I’m in support of this amendment today is because I don’t know how much money is going to be in the Interior account tomorrow," she said.
McCollum added that committee leaders had not put an emergency supplemental bill for Flint on the agenda.
"Maybe I should just wait, keep my fingers crossed if there’s enough money for wildland fires, for our park maintenance backlog, to do what we need to do to keep species off the endangered species list, oh, and to do what we need to do for all of our communities’ drinking water, and then maybe we’ll have a little something left over for Flint," she said.
Rogers said the so-called 302(b) allocations for each spending bill were irrelevant if the Flint aid was designated as emergency spending.
McCollum then asked Rogers if he would support such an emergency bill for the Michigan city in the Interior-EPA spending bill. He avoided an answer.
"I yield back," Rogers responded.
Rep. John Abney Culberson (R-Texas) questioned the $765 million for Flint that appropriators would need to pull "out of thin air."
"I urge members to vote against it as a publicity stunt, quite frankly," he said, to groans from Democrats. "It’s not the right time or place."
Appropriators also rejected an amendment from Kaptur that would have removed controversial riders from the bill — including language to block funding for implementation of a national ocean policy, stop the administration’s water jurisdiction rule, bar any changes in the definition of "fill material" for Clean Water Act permits and prevent regulations against possessing a firearm on Army Corps lands.
"Any one of those provisions could threaten the entire bill," said Kaptur. "These riders really don’t belong in an appropriations bill."
Many of the riders have strong support. Rogers, for example, said the fill language was necessary to avoid regulatory overreach. Changing the definition could restrict dredge-and-fill permits for activities like mining, a big economic driver in Rogers’ district.
"It is critical that Congress protect against these overly burdensome rules and requirements," Rogers said.
The committee approved 302(b) spending caps totaling $144.7 billion for four Appropriations subcommittees by voice vote, falling short of allocations needed for all 12 spending bills.
The panel assigned the Agriculture, Rural Development, and Food and Drug Administration Subcommittee $21.3 billion in fiscal 2017 discretionary spending. It did so after passing the spending bill for food and agriculture (See related story).
The committee capped the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee’s discretionary spending at $37.4 billion. It allocated $4.4 billion for legislative branch issues, with $3.5 billion for the House. Members have the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Subcommittee set at $81.5 billion.
The Senate will likely take up its $37.5 billion version of the energy and water spending bill later today. Leaders there are planning to require 60 votes to attach any amendments to the measure in a bid to ensure bipartisan backing.
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Republicans want "bragging rights" for moving spending bills and, as a result, will try to keep contentious riders off.
President Obama "won’t tolerate any poison bill riders; he’ll veto the bill," said Durbin. "As long as he is our backstop, you will have good-conduct medals being given out all around."
Lawmakers had yet to file amendments yesterday. Most senators seemed preoccupied with completing work on a broader energy policy bill that will likely pass this morning.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said he might propose amendments to the Senate spending bill aimed at "creating incentive investments in coal country, especially West Virginia."
Manchin said he wanted to make sure that whatever he offers has a "realistic chance" of getting through the House but had yet to settle on specifics.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) yesterday ruled out adding aid for the city of Flint to the spending bill. The senator said she is still working on finding a vehicle for the money, after agreeing to drop her push for $220 million in emergency funding in the energy bill.
Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who also chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over EPA, was skeptical that her spending bill could serve as the vehicle for Flint aid but said it could address some related policy issues.
"I don’t know; either pieces of it or a water infrastructure fix could be on it," Murkowski said in an interview yesterday. "I think it’s fair to say that you can’t rule things like that out. We’re just now rolling up our sleeves on this."
Stabenow and several other senators are also due to roll out a broad bill on lead policy later today that will aim to authorize about $70 billion over the next 10 years in tax breaks, loans and grants for water infrastructure and relief programs. Stabenow said the bill is policy-focused and will not be a vehicle for carrying emergency aid.
Reporter Geof Koss contributed.