In negotiating the Senate’s fiscal year 2018 (FY18) Energy and Water (E&W) Development Appropriation’s bill, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee on energy and water development, had no time for President Donald Trump’s proposed cuts to the Department of Energy budget.

“We started with an unrealistic budget proposal from the president. The Department of Energy’s budget request for the fiscal year 2018 was only $28 billion, a decrease of about $2.9 billion—or 10% below—what Congress provided last year,” Smith said during the subcommittee markup of the FY18 Energy and Water Development Appropriation’s bill, held July 18.

The president’s budget request, released in late May, proposed cutting funding to DOE by $2.786 billion to just $28 billion. However, within the DOE’s proposed FY18 budget, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which is “responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science,” had a proposed boost of $1.1 billion to $13.9 billion, an increase of about 9% from FY17. Funding for the rest of the department in the request was cut 21% to $14.1 billion, down $3.7 billion from FY17’s $17.8 billion.

The NNSA is granted a significant funding boost in the Senate bill, which would fund the program at $12.7 billion, $747 million above FY17-enacted levels. While bipartisan support for the bill as a whole was expressed during the hearing, this particular funding boost ruffled the feathers of Subcommittee Ranking Member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). “I’m concerned that this bill continues a pattern of more money for weapons and lower or flat funding for everything else,” she said.

Energy Programs Restored

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.

The Senate version of the E&W appropriations bill restores much of the funding Trump requested be cut. Science research is funded at $5.55 billion, $158 million more than FY17. Energy programs are funded at $11.1 billion, $189 million less than FY17, but $3.6 billion more than the president’s request. “Within this total, the bill prioritizes and increases funding for energy programs that encourage U.S. economic competitiveness, and that will advance an ‘all-of-the-above’ solution to U.S. energy independence,” according to the bill highlights.

Fossil energy research is funded at $573 million, a loss of $95 million from FY17, but $293 million above the request. Nuclear energy research and development is given funding of $917 million, $214 million more than the president’s request.

Though the full text of the bill has not been released, based on member statements it can be assumed that Senate appropriators in large part rejected the deep cuts Trump proposed for the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program. The office was funded at $2.09 billion in the FY17 omnibus. Funding for the office is decreased to just $636 million in Trump’s budget request. “Recognizing that difficult decisions had to be made, I want to express my appreciation that the bill rejects the very deep cuts to the energy efficiency and renewable energy programs that were proposed in the administration’s budget,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said during the markup.

ARPA-E Termination Rejected, Loan Guarantees Don’t Fare as Well

One of the most controversial aspects of Trump’s budget request for the DOE has proven to be the termination of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program.

The House version of the E&W appropriations bill grants the president’s request and kills the program. However, House appropriators do not seem entirely convinced the cut will stick through the budget process. “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,” House Energy and Water Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) said during the July 12 full committee markup of the House bill.

On the other side of Capitol Hill, Alexander was unwavering in his intention to keep the program afloat. “Like last year, the bill Senator Feinstein and I have agreed on, provides new record funding levels in a regular appropriations bill for Department of Energy research programs including $5.55 billion for the Office of Science and $330 million for ARPA-E,” Alexander said.

However, another casualty of the Trump request, the DOE Loan Guarantee Program, seems unlikely to make it through the budget process. Both versions of the bill axe the program, must to Feinstein’s dismay.  “While some may question whether we should have a loan program at DOE, the fact is, the program has successfully loaned more than $30 billion in innovative energy and vehicle projects over the last 10 years and has resulted in net positive repayments to the Treasury,” she said.

Feinstein went on to note that there are several pending applications in the programs. “There are 50 loan applications pending at DOE right now. Some of these companies have spent millions of dollars as part of the application. Rather than canceling the program as we have done, I think it would have been more fair to sunset the program in a few years after these companies have been able to complete the loan process to a ‘yes or no’ decision.”

Abby L. Harvey is a POWER reporter.