Old, new fights expected at bicameral energy and water markups

By Geof Koss, Tiffany Stecker | 04/11/2016 07:00 AM EDT

The prospects for President Obama’s request to double clean energy spending over five years will become clearer this week, as House and Senate appropriators unveil their fiscal 2017 spending bills that fund the Department of Energy.

The prospects for President Obama’s request to double clean energy spending over five years will become clearer this week, as House and Senate appropriators unveil their fiscal 2017 spending bills that fund the Department of Energy.

The Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee will mark up its bill Wednesday afternoon, continuing the tradition of moving early on legislation that is widely popular because it funds DOE’s nuclear weapons programs and federal laboratories. The measure also funds the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which pays for water projects nationwide.

The Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee will also take up its version of the bill Wednesday, where they will also announce the discretionary spending caps known as 302(b) allocations, followed by a full committee markup Thursday.


The bill in recent years has become increasingly controversial amid partisan friction over the administration’s climate agenda, Yucca Mountain and the Army Corps’ controversial joint proposal with U.S. EPA to delineate which streams, wetlands and waterways receive automatic protection under the Clean Water Act.

The usual tussling over the division of funds between renewable and traditional energy programs will be exacerbated this year by the Mission Innovation proposal, which would double clean energy over five years and has been championed by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who recently brought Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates to Capitol Hill to help sell the plan.

While Moniz and House Energy and Water Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) get along well, Simpson last month signaled the push faces an uphill fight in the lower chamber (E&ENews PM, March 1).

In the Senate, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the upper chamber’s Appropriations subcommittee, has long called for more investment in energy research, but he too echoed Simpson’s concerns. And Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the Senate subcommittee, told Moniz that budget pressures will make fulfilling the request a "most difficult task" (E&E Daily, March 10).

That’s in part because the budget calls for $32.5 billion for DOE programs, a 9 percent increase over the current fiscal year’s enacted level (Greenwire, Feb. 9).

Also facing a tough slog is the administration’s push to include mandatory funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, which would come on top of a goal to triple the agency’s overall budget.

Jockeying has already begun on another perennial fight — the nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain. The House has repeatedly included additional funding for the project, which the administration has been attempting to shutter for years.

Those additional funds haven’t made it into law because of the clout of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, but the Nevada Democrat’s retirement at the end of the year has Yucca backers looking to wait out the clock on his tenure (E&E Daily, April 6).

The Yucca impasse has also stalled efforts by Moniz — supported by Alexander, Feinstein and other key senators — to establish a pilot program for moving spent nuclear fuel from power plants and into temporary storage facilities. On the Senate side, both appropriators have signaled they’ll try again this year, although Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) — a leading opponent of the plan unless it is accompanied by more funds to keep Yucca on the table — said last month the underlying dynamic appears unchanged (E&E Daily, March 2).

And an eleventh-hour White House request to start selling off crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to modernize the aging facility may encounter speed bumps, as well.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who strongly supports the idea, last week suggested it may have been premature to request the funds because DOE has not yet completed a long-awaited review of the SPR’s needs. However, the department says the plan will be released in the coming weeks, which may assuage appropriators’ concerns (Greenwire, April 8).

Waging a WOTUS war

Alexander said last month that he would push for a "clean" spending bill without policy riders.

But given election year dynamics, it’s uncertain whether lawmakers will hold off on issuing amendments on contentious Obama administration proposals, like the Waters of the U.S., or WOTUS, rule. Earlier this month, 120 House lawmakers signed a letter calling to stop funding for the U.S. EPA-Army Corps of Engineers water rule (Greenwire, April 1).

But WOTUS, currently tied up in a federal appeals court, is already blocked from implementation under a stay.

Efforts to block Obama administration policies — including a rider to defund the federal flood risk management standard to redefine floodplains for federal grants, projects and other programs — could be introduced at the full Appropriations Committee markup, on the House floor or in conference.

But lawmakers are almost sure to raise the spending levels for the Army Corps, an agency that is historically underfunded in the president’s budget regardless of the administration with the expectation that Congress will elevate the spending levels.

The Army Corps — whose civil works division is responsible for building and repairing major public works projects on waterways, overseeing environmental permitting and restoring ecosystems — received nearly $6 billion in the fiscal 2016 spending bill. The president’s fiscal 2017 budget proposal would set aside $4.62 billion for the agency, just slightly below last year’s ask but 23 percent less than what Congress appropriated.

Schedule: The House markup is Wednesday, April 13, at 1:30 p.m. in 2362-B Rayburn. The Senate subcommittee markup is Wednesday, April 13, at 2:30 p.m. in 124 Dirksen, and the full Senate committee markup is Thursday, April 14, at 10:30 a.m. in 106 Dirksen.