DOE, EPA Appropriations Bills See Movement on the Hill

House of Representatives appropriators July 12 took up their responses to President Donald Trump’s controversial fiscal year 2018 (FY18) budget requests for the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Both bills were favorably reported out of their respective markups.

The House FY18 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill, which funds DOE, came before the full Committee on Appropriations, while the House Interior EPA Appropriations bill underwent a subcommittee markup. Both bills largely reject massive funding cuts requested in the president’s FY18 proposal.

DOE Funding Down from FY17, Up from Request

The president’s budget request, released May 23, proposed cutting funding to DOE by $1.7 billion, a 5.6% decrease from fiscal year 2017 (FY17) funding levels. However, within the DOE’s proposed FY18 budget, the National Nuclear Security Administration, which is “responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science,” had a proposed boost of $1.4 billion to $13.9 billion, an increase of 11.4% from FY17. Funding for the rest of the department in the request was cut 18% to $14.1 billion, down $3.1 billion from FY17’s $17.2 billion.

The budgets for the department’s offices of science, nuclear energy, fossil energy, and energy efficiency and renewable energy are all cut significantly under the budget request.

House appropriators introduced a bill funding the department at $37.56 billion – $209 million below the FY17 enacted level and $3.65 billion above the president’s budget request.

Most the increases in the bill go to defense activities. “To address our national security needs and meet emerging threats from around the globe, the bill provides a total of $13.9 billion for DOE’s nuclear weapons security programs, including Weapons Activities, Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, and Naval Reactors —a $976 million increase above the fiscal year 2017 level,” the bill summary explains.

However, while defense programs got a boost, the energy programs accounts all took a hit in the House bill.  The bill would fund the nuclear energy program at $969 million—$48 million below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level and $266 million above the request. The appropriators recommend funding of $635 million for the fossil energy program—a decrease of $33 million below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level and $355 million above the budget request.

Taking the most significant hit in the House bill is the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).  “Renewable energy programs, which have already received significant investments in recent years, are cut by $986 million compared to fiscal year 2017 and increased by $468 million compared to the President’s budget request,” The request says.

Committee Democrats expressed disappointment in the cuts to EERE. “I strongly disapprove of the choice to shun the energy accounts that will invent our future, most notably the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy,” Energy and Water Subcommittee Ranking Member Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), said during the full committee markup. “While our president may choose to ignore the realities of the impact of human activity on the environment and climate, the rest of the world has roundly rebuked him.”

Elimination of ARPA-E Draw Ire, Science Funding Praised

Beyond the deep cuts to EERE, an equally contentious issue throughout the markup was the elimination of the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E). “This is a responsible bill, one that makes some difficult choices in order to prioritize our most critical federal programs,” Energy and Water Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) said. “As a result, the bill eliminates the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy, and the title 17 loan guarantee program for the Department of Energy as proposed by the president.”

Several Democratic amendments were proposed to restore ARPA-E funding, though many were withdrawn and none passed. “Energy research must play the long game, with government support, right up until it becomes commercially viable,” Kaptur said.

It seemed that the elimination of APRA-E was a tough pill for committee Republicans to swallow as well. “I certainly understand the concern that members have [with the] elimination of ARPA-E. This is one of the difficult choices that had to be made in this bill. I will tell you, I happen to like ARPA-E, but our nation’s defense and infrastructure are the top priorities of this bill,” Simpson said.

Simpson reminded the committee that this bill is not final and things could still change. “I will tell you, and I hope the Department of Energy hears this, things may change in this process, this is a process … and the department should not take actions to shut down ARPA-E until Congress directs it to by law. We’ll see how this turns out,” he said.

The chairman also noted that any projects currently funded by ARPA-E would not be eliminated under the bill. “When these projects are awarded—usually they’re three of four-year grants, something like that—the funds have to be available for the full three or four years,” he said. “So those programs, those research projects going on will continue to go on. Eliminating [ARPA-E] prevents any new programs from any new research grants going on.”

The president’s budget request proposed cutting funding to DOE’s Office of Science by nearly a billion dollars. House appropriators declined the president’s request on this account, restoring funding for the office in line with the FY17 level.

The inclusion of funding for the science account was an area of agreement for both sides of the aisle. “I’m … pleased that this bill restores the more than 900 million dollars that the administration proposed to cut from the important science account,” Kaptur said.

Democratic Woes Surround WOTUS Rider

Committee Democrats were also distressed by a rider concerning the Waters of the U.S. rule, an Obama-era regulation that gives the federal government expanded authority over bodies of water.

The rider, according to Simpson, “provides clear authorization to withdraw the Obama administration rule. Secondly, it clarifies what rules will be in effect if the WOTUS rule is withdrawn, specifically the same rules that were in effect immediately prior to the promulgation of the final WOTUS rule. Third, it does not affect the Trump administration’s ability to develop a new rule, one that will provide more clarity and certainty for the regulated community while staying within the legal bounds.”

Kaptur painted the rider in a much different way; saying to approve it would be to set a dangerous precedent. “Let me be plain, this rider is worse than any of those previous versions and it will not gain the Democratic votes necessary for this bill to become law,” she said. “This rider would exempt the repeal of the Clean Water Rules from laws that would otherwise apply, including the Administrative Procedures Act, essentially allowing the president to act unilaterally without any input from the public.”

EPA Budget Cut, But Less than Proposed

The $528 million cut to the EPA included in the Interior and Environment Appropriations bill marked up in subcommittee July 12 seems significant, until it’s compared to the $2.6 billion cut proposed by the administration. The cut in the bill represents a 6.5% decrease from FY17, quite small compared to the proposed 31% decrease called for in the administration’s request.

“The bill funds the EPA at $7.5 billion, a reduction of $528 million below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level and $1.9 billion above the Administration’s request,” the bill summary reads. “The legislation supports the President’s proposal to reshape the agency’s workforce by providing resources requested to offer buyouts and voluntary separation agreements to employees. This bill also reflects the Administration’s goal to rein in outdated, unnecessary and potentially harmful regulations at the EPA.”

Subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) said little of the vast increase in funding compared to the request, but the large remaining cut to the agency did not go unnoticed by Ranking Member Betty McCollum (D-Minn.). “Last month during the EPA budget hearing, I was heartened to hear several of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle not only reject the administration’s reckless budget request but also acknowledge that the EPA has been systematically cut for the past seven years,” she said. “In fact, since 2010 the EPA has been reduced by $2.2 billion and has 2,000 fewer staff. The cuts proposed in this bill would further undermine the EPA’s ability to protect human health and the health of our environment.”

As is standard, amendments to the bill will be submitted during the yet-to-be-scheduled full committee markup.

Abby L. Harvey is a POWER reporter.