Unfinished business: wildfire funding, nuclear waste, EPA riders -- and ending the light bulb rider?

House Republican appropriators overseeing energy and environmental agencies say they are pleased with the sweeping spending bill expected to pass today but already are assembling a list of priorities to address next year, when they will be operating in a unified GOP Congress for the first time in eight years.

Near the top of the list is securing funding for nuclear waste disposal, providing a permanent source of money for annual wildfires and reining in U.S. EPA air and water rules, two appropriations cardinals said yesterday. Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee for energy and water development, also suggested he could be open to jettisoning the controversial "light bulb rider" that has been a fixture of annual spending bills for the past four years.

The House is set today to vote on H.R. 83, the so-called CRomnibus that combines full-year spending bills for most federal agencies with a short-term continuing resolution for immigration agencies to protest President Obama's policies in that area. The existing CR expires at midnight tonight, meaning the government will shut down without House and Senate passing and Obama signing new appropriations legislation.

Simpson and Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), who chairs the interior-environment subcommittee, said in separate interviews yesterday that they were happy with the overall bill and expected it to pass but noted that it did not do everything they had hoped.

"The biggest problem that we need to solve in the energy and water bill next year -- and this is going to take the authorizing committees -- is Yucca Mountain [and] interim [nuclear] storage," Simpson said. "And the reality is we need both of them."


Simpson said an attempt to broker such a deal in this year's spending bill collapsed because of objections from both sides of the Capitol. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), a steadfast opponent of the proposed nuclear waste disposal site in his home state, refused to accept any new funding for the Yucca Mountain project, while House Republicans refused to go along with funding for interim storage without Yucca.

It remains to be seen how much of a roadblock Reid will remain once he is in the minority, but he would still hold substantial sway as leader of the Democrats, at least some of whom would have to go along with anything to clear the 60-vote filibuster hurdle. Simpson noted that Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who will chair the Senate Appropriations energy and water subpanel, has been working on a bipartisan deal to secure new nuclear waste legislation and is a Yucca supporter.

"We need to resolve that problem because it's stopping us from moving forward on nuclear energy if we don't find a way to deal with the waste," Simpson said.


Simpson and Calvert also said a top priority will be to address the problem of "fire borrowing," in which the Forest Service and Interior Department have to shift money from other accounts to cover the costs of fighting wildfires in the West that is typically replenished via emergency supplemental appropriations. The problem keeps the agencies in charge of overseeing forest lands from properly managing them to prevent wildfires, they said.

Bipartisan legislation to address the problem was introduced in both the House and Senate this year, but neither version made it into the CRomnibus. Prospects may improve next year with the absence of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) from the top of the Budget Committee. Ryan, a critic of the proposals, is going to become chairman of Ways and Means.

"It's very popular on both sides, so for whatever reason, we weren't able to pull it through in the omnibus," Calvert told reporters. "But I feel reasonably confident we can get this done in the early part of the session next year"


The fiscal 2015 spending bill emerged relatively free of controversial policy riders, with the exception of a new measure blocking the Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the sage grouse as endangered and another reinforcing agricultural exemptions under the Clean Water Act.

Now that they are in, both riders are expected to remain a part of future appropriations bills. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the incoming chairman of the Natural Resources Committee and a member of the Rules Committee, said just delaying a listing for the remainder of this fiscal year would not be sufficient to determine whether state programs can protect the bird without federal intervention.

"One year is not enough to find out the viability or the efficacy of programs that are out there," Bishop said during the Rules Committee meeting, calling for at least "five to 10 years" to see if state plans are effective.

Simpson acknowledged that the rider would return next year, and he said another top priority would be seeking limits on EPA's "Waters of the United States" rule, which would increase the number of wetlands and streams automatically subject to regulation. Calvert referenced EPA climate rules as another top target.

But Simpson also suggested he would be amenable to removing the so-called light bulb rider, which prevents DOE from enforcing efficiency standards for lighting that were enacted as part of the 2007 energy law. That rider was the first Republicans succeeded in attaching to appropriations measures after securing their House majority in 2011.

Environmentalists sought to have that rider stripped this year because they say it is interfering with DOE plans to update the standard, and Simpson said even some lighting companies saw it as no longer necessary.

"I have heard from some of the light bulb manufacturers who say that's no longer necessary. In fact, it may be hindering them," he said. "So let's take a look at it when we start marking up our bill and stuff."

Of course, eliminating the light bulb rider would likely be part of a deal to extract some other concession from Democrats, he acknowledged.

"You wouldn't suggest we put things in our bill in order to trade them, would you?" he said with a laugh. "It's how things are done."

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