House Passes $30.4 Billion Energy-Water Spending Measure

U.S. House Passes $30.4 Billion Energy-Water Appropriations Bill
A generator operates inside Hoover Dam near Boulder City, Nevada. Photographer: Ronda Churchill/Bloomberg

Government spending on renewables and other green energy programs would be halved and incandescent light bulbs dropped from federal regulation under the fiscal 2014 Energy-Water Development appropriations bill passed today in the House.

The 227-198 vote on H.R. 2609 was largely along party lines.

The $30.4 billion bill would bring nearly across-the-board cuts to the Energy Department, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation and other energy- and water-related agencies and offices. That funding would be $2.9 billion less than fiscal 2013 appropriated levels and $6.3 billion less than what was actually spent -- a figure that included supplemental disaster aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

The funding level assigned for fiscal 2014 created difficult choices, said Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen, a New Jersey Republican who is chairman of the House Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee. The priorities, he said, were national defense and the Corps of Engineers.

“The reductions we had to make to the applied energy research and energy development programs will shift more of their work to the private sector,” he said yesterday on the House floor.

Proposed Consolidation

The bill would provide $24.9 billion for the Energy Department. Nearly $1 billion in cuts would come from a proposed consolidation of the offices for electricity delivery, energy reliability, energy efficiency and renewables. The newly combined account would receive $982.6 million, about half the amount appropriated in fiscal 2013 and two-thirds less than what the administration requested.

The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which supports the development and commercialization of new energy technologies, would receive $50 million, $215 million -- or 81 percent -- less than what was enacted in fiscal 2013.

Three Republicans offered amendments that would roll back unpopular federal regulation of some popular consumer items and cancel advertising for alternative energy programs.

Implementation and enforcement of federal regulations related to refrigerators, freezers and incandescent light bulbs would be prohibited under a measure offered by Representative Mike Burgess of Texas. A proposal by Representative Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee would halt the Energy Department’s plans to regulate ceiling fans, while Representative Tim Walberg of Michigan sponsored an amendment that would eliminate a national media campaign promoting alternative energy. All three amendments were adopted by voice vote.

Winners, Losers

“The American people don’t need more government bureaucracy telling them what energy sources they should use,” Walberg said on the floor. “The government needs to get out of the business of picking winners and losers in the energy market, and certainly shouldn’t be funding advertising campaigns on behalf of private green-energy firms.”

Democratic amendments that would have increased spending on renewables and energy-efficiency programs were rejected. Representative Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, the top Democrat on the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, criticized cuts to alternative-energy spending.

‘Foreign energy dependence is our nation’s chief strategic vulnerability,’’ Kaptur said on the floor. “The bill abandons America’s quest for energy independence, which has the potential to create millions of new jobs.”

Corps Projects

As passed, the bill would provide $4.9 billion for Corps of Engineers projects such as dredging rivers and harbors -- $104 million, or 2 percent, less than what was appropriated in fiscal 2013. It would also bar the start of new projects in fiscal 2014.

The bill would breathe some life into a contentious plan to dispose of nuclear waste in a remote area of Nevada. It would include $25 million to support the establishment of a depository for the toxic refuse near Yucca Mountain, about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas -- a site that was first approved by Congress in 2002. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, and others fought for years to block it, and the Obama administration terminated funding for it in 2009.

The White House has threatened a veto of the bill, which the Office of Management and Budget said in a statement of administration policy would “require draconian cuts” and “drastically underfunds critical investments.”

On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved that chamber’s version of the Energy-Water appropriations bill, S. 1245, by a vote of 24-6 on June 27. It would provide $34.5 billion, including a 25 percent increase in spending on renewables and energy efficiency programs. The difference between the House and Senate bills is just part of a $91 billion top-line gap between the two chambers’ discretionary spending plans.

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