What the CROmnibus Means for the Power Sector

The omnibus continuing resolution (popularly referred to as the “CROmnibus”) passed by Congress late in the evening on Dec. 13 to keep the U.S. government running through 2015, contains a number of provisions affecting the power generation sector.

DOE. Executive branch agencies received a mix of cuts and expansions. The Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) $10.2 billion budget was largely unchanged, though the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which supports a variety of renewable generation initiatives, received a modest increase of about $25 million to its $1.93 billion appropriation.

However, total appropriations for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs were about $380 million less than the administration requested. The bill does provide $913 million to support research in nuclear energy and $571 million for fossil fuels, both of which represent increases over the administration budget.

EPA. The Environmental Protection Agency’s $8.1 billion budget was cut, albeit slightly, by $60 million, though this actually represents a smaller cut than the Obama Administration wanted in its March budget request.

Ex-Im Bank. The bill also seeks to undo President Obama’s restrictions on the Export-Import Bank on issuing loans that would support coal mining and coal-fired power plants overseas, though it is unclear what effect this provision will have. The new rules prohibit the use of federal funds to enforce these restrictions, though the bank is not currently considering any coal projects for loans.

SMRs. The bill provides $54.5 million to the DOE’s Small Modular Reactor (SMR) Licensing Technical Support initiative, though it also contains a provision prohibiting the DOE from giving any more money to Babcock & Wilcox, which has scaled back its SMR program and sought to change its cost-sharing deal.

USEC. Despite the DOE’s repeated attempts to end support for the bankrupt United States Enrichment Corp. (USEC)—the administration requested no funds—as well as concerns about how the DOE has worked with the company in the past, the bill would provide $97.2 million in new funding. The bill does prohibit use of the money for new centrifuge construction and directs DOE to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of domestic uranium enrichment options.

MOX. Along with USEC support, another program the bill rescues from DOE purgatory is the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility in South Carolina. The bill not only provides $345 million in funding for continued construction but also prohibits the DOE from putting the project in cold standby as it had sought to do earlier this year.

Crude-by-Rail. One provision that carries potential impact for the coal industry is the Department of Transportation’s proposed rule on crude-by-rail safety, which had been expected this spring. The bill requires the rule to be released by Jan. 15, which may prove impossible. The surge in crude-by-rail has disrupted coal deliveries to power plants, especially in the Midwest, and any change in how it is handled could affect this growing crisis.

Other Bills. Two other bills that have been pending alongside the CROmnibus affect the power sector, though one failed to pass.

The Energy Efficiency Improvement Act of 2014, which contains a laundry list of new energy efficiency initiatives, failed to get approval and will have to be reintroduced in the next Congress.

The “tax extenders” bill that would extend a variety of tax breaks, including the Production Tax Credit and an array of energy efficiency initiatives, through the end of 2014, is still alive. Most observers expect it to pass the Senate unchanged in the next day or two. Any changes would require the bill to go back to the House of Representatives—which has already adjourned for the holidays—for approval.

—Thomas W. Overton, JD is a POWER associate editor (@thomas_overton, @POWERmagazine).