Senate Panel Led by Democrats Cuts Obama’s Green Programs

A U.S. Senate spending panel approved $31.6 billion in energy and water-related programs, about $5 billion less than President Barack Obama requested, as Congress seeks to cut the federal deficit.

The Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee’s measure for fiscal 2012 is also about $57 million less than the current-year budget for the programs. The full Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to vote tomorrow on the proposal, which would provide about $1 billion more than corresponding legislation passed July 15 by the Republican-led House.

“Overall I believe we have developed a well-balanced and responsible bill,” Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and the subcommittee’s chairman, said today before the measure was approved on a voice vote.

The Senate measure provides $200 million for alternative-energy loan guarantees that have come under scrutiny after a recipient, Solyndra Inc. of Fremont, California, said last week it would seek bankruptcy reorganization. The company filed today for protection from creditors in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Delaware.

Solyndra, which Obama visited in May 2010, borrowed $527.8 million against a $535 million Energy Department loan guarantee, according to court papers. Five U.S. companies have been awarded $1.56 billion in guarantees through the program.

The solar-panel manufacturer’s financial troubles raise questions about the process for awarding guarantees, Feinstein told reporters after the hearing.

Solyndra’s Failure

“Why isn’t this figured out before you go to loan process, before you get the president of the United States out there?” Feinstein said. “Solyndra was a big blow, no question.”

The senator described the amount the committee provided for loan guarantees as “de minimis” and said it was unlikely to increase.

The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, modeled after a Defense Department program that helped create the Internet, would receive $250 million under legislation, $300 million less than Obama sought.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu has described the program as a “swing for the fences” effort to help new technologies find a market. The House legislation included $180 million for it.

The panel’s bill also reduced the president’s budget request for energy-efficiency and renewable-energy programs. It provides about $1.8 billion, the same level as in fiscal 2011, for such efforts. Obama sought $3.2 billion. The House provided $1.3 billion.

No Modular Reactors

The House legislation provided $30.6 billion in funding for energy- and water-related programs, about $5.9 billion less than the amount requested by Obama, and about $1 billion less than the programs received for fiscal 2011.

Feinstein said $584 million that the measure would provide for the office of nuclear energy should be spent on safety in light of the meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant in Japan after a March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

The allotment for the nuclear office is about $142 million less than it received for fiscal 2011, according to a subcommittee summary. The House gave the program about $734 million. Unlike the House version, the Senate bill wouldn’t provide money to develop small, modular nuclear reactors.

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