Winners and losers in the year‑end spending deal

By George Cahlink | 12/20/2019 07:30 AM EST

Congress approved fiscal 2020 government funding legislation yesterday with increases to energy and environment programs, but many advocates and lawmakers were displeased.

Lawmakers yesterday approved legislation to fund the federal government through 2020.

Lawmakers yesterday approved legislation to fund the federal government through 2020. Francis Chung/E&E News

President Trump will soon sign into law a $1.4 trillion spending bill that is seen as both a Christmas tree and a stocking full of coal — depending on whom you ask.

The Senate yesterday approved the domestic and international assistance package — which contains the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education, Agriculture, Energy-Water, Interior-Environment, Legislative Branch, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, State-Foreign Operations, and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development bills — by a vote of 71-23

A second national security minibus package carried the Defense, Commerce-Justice-Science, Financial Services and General Government, and Homeland Security bills. It passed the Senate yesterday 81-11.


The House also approved the measures with bipartisan support on Tuesday. Lawmakers acted with time to spare before government funding runs out today. But critics on the right have grumbled about deficit spending and the left thinks Democrats were too meek in the negotiations.

Here are the winners and losers in the massive, more than 2,000-page package that will fund all federal agencies for the remainder of fiscal 2020.


Clean energy research

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), the House’s top Energy and Water Development appropriator, called the package "the most important climate bill this Congress will pass in this session" (E&E Daily, Dec. 18).

If that’s true, it’s because the measure is loaded with clean energy spending for the Department of Energy, including large boosts for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, the Office of Science and national laboratories.

The dollars are a down payment on a Manhattan Project-style approach to addressing climate change through research that enjoys bipartisan support.


Agencies receiving a 2% raise might not see much reason to raise a glass of eggnog, but for EPA, it’s a victory after flat funding and proposals for deep cuts since Trump took office.

The $9 billion EPA budget is spread across bipartisan programs, such as clean air and water grants and conservation efforts, and maintains funding for more controversial programs such as chemical safety testing. Lawmakers are hoping the increase will halt the exodus of EPA employees (E&E Daily, Dec. 17).

PFAS research

Backers of regulating the carcinogenic class of chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, may have fallen short in getting tougher regulations into law this year, but the omnibus provides more than $300 million for PFAS cleanup work and research.

They see it as a success.

"If I take a step back and realize a year ago, when we were all waving our arms around about PFAS, nobody knew what we were talking about. Now you look at what we actually got in, it’s pretty substantial," said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), co-chair of the Congressional PFAS Task Force.

Federal workforce

Not only does the deal keep federal workers from being furloughed by a shutdown, but they’ll also get their largest pay raise in about a decade.

Their 3.1% pay hike matches the one military personnel are getting. Trump, who previously proposed no increase for civilian workers, has been especially generous to feds this holiday season. Earlier this week, he signed an executive order giving them Christmas Eve off (E&E Daily, Dec. 18).

Murkowski and McCollum

After years of discord, Senate Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and her House counterpart, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), deserve credit for moving their bill for the second year in a row — despite a divided Congress.

They did so by dropping the most partisan riders and making a host of other spending trade-offs. Both lawmakers have a shared interest in Native Americans and used the bill to significantly expand funding for Bureau of Indian Affairs programs and state tribal assistance grants.


Green groups

Environmental organizations, including the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club, bashed Democrats for failing to deliver spending or policy priorities in this year’s largest bill.

Greens were especially frustrated that it provides more than $1 billion for U.S.-Mexico border wall construction, which they see as damaging the Rio Grande Valley.

They were also incensed that existing riders, such as one preventing the listing of the sage grouse as an endangered species, were kept in.

House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said she was surprised by the criticism, adding, "I don’t remember rejecting anything that they presented to me. I’m happy to work with them. There’s going to be another bill" next year.

Clean energy taxes

Clean economy advocates are frustrated that a series of renewable energy tax extenders fell out during eleventh-hour negotiations. Among those dropped were incentives for electric vehicles, battery storage, offshore wind and solar energy.

Backers said an accord never materialized that would have traded the energy breaks for technical corrections to the 2017 tax law.

Democrats, including Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, said they’ll push for them again next year, while Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said he, too, would have liked a broader deal.

Nuclear waste

An expected breakthrough on nuclear waste never materialized this year, leaving lawmakers uncertain of where to go next.

There was bipartisan support in both the House and Senate for funding interim nuclear waste storage sites until Congress could come to an agreement on the long-stalled Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

But the accord died over House lawmakers’ worries that a Senate plan to tap the Nuclear Waste Fund for interim storage would deplete future dollars for Yucca.

Shasta Dam

Despite a big boost for the Army Corps of Engineers and a high-level push, no funds were included for the controversial raising of Northern California’s Shasta Dam.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) made a late push for the project, which is important to his Central Valley district’s farm interests.

He hoped to trade dam funding for dollars sought by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for rehabilitation work at the Presidio national historic site.

In the end, Pelosi got the entire $10 million she sought for the Presidio in her district. McCarthy and the dam derided by environmentalists were left out.

Reporters Geof Koss, Jeremy Dillon, Ariana Figueroa, Kellie Lunney and Nick Sobczyk contributed.