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House panel advances bill eliminating ARPA-E, holds DOE science steady

Originally published by E&E News

A House appropriations subcommittee advanced a $37.5 billion energy and water bill that would slash funding for renewable and efficiency programs and eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).

The fiscal 2018 bill, approved by voice vote, would provide more funding than the Trump administration's request for many Department of Energy (DOE) offices but still would lead to deep cuts in energy programs if enacted.

"This is a responsible bill ... that makes some difficult choices in order to prioritize the most critical federal programs," said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), chairman of the House Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, at a markup this morning. "Like the president, we want to ensure the best use of each and every tax dollar."

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would see its funding fall by about half under the budget plan, from $2.1 billion to $1.1 billion. The office supports renewable and sustainable transportation research and oversees mandatory efficiency standards.

"The cuts to clean energy programs represent a very serious backtrack," said Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), the subcommittee's ranking member. The cuts would do "real violence" to DOE's efficiency and renewable programs, she said.

The measure would also eliminate the loan guarantee program as Trump requested, although it would provide funds for administrative expenses for continued monitoring of issued loans.

The House plan to eliminate ARPA-E is expected to face pushback in the Senate from Democrats and Republican supporters like Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). The program supports "high-risk" projects and is backed by business leaders like Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Southern Co. CEO Tom Fanning (Greenwire, June 20).

Simpson said yesterday that the decision to zero out ARPA-E stemmed from objections from the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

"I like ARPA-E, but the reality is our Science Committee doesn't like it, wants to put the money into basic science. And with this allocation, we've got to make some tough decisions," he said.

Simpson smiled when asked whether he was counting on Alexander to push funding for ARPA-E, which the Tennessee Republican strongly supports.

"We'll see what happens in conference," he said, laughing.

Other offices would see funding remain flat or witness smaller cuts under the House plan.

Funding for weatherization assistance, which the Trump administration wanted to eliminate, would receive funding equivalent to this fiscal year, Kaptur said. "We agree on much more than we disagree on," she said to Simpson.

The Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability would see funding fall from $230 million to $219 million. Funding for the Office of Nuclear Energy would decline from $1 billion to $969 million.

Research and development at the Office of Fossil Energy — which oversees carbon capture development — would see a cut of $33 million, to $635 million, but would receive funding much higher than President Trump's request.

Funding at the Office of Science, which supports the majority of the national labs, would stay flat compared with fiscal 2017 levels at $5.4 billion.

Nuclear weapons programs would receive $13.9 billion under the bill, which House appropriators say equals a nearly $1 billion boost above fiscal 2017 enacted levels. That includes $340 million for construction of South Carolina's Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, a perennial source of tension between Congress and the executive branch (Greenwire, June 27).

The bill also includes $90 million to advance the stalled Yucca Mountain nuclear waste depository in Nevada.

Lawmakers on both sides expressed satisfaction with funding levels for the Army Corps of Engineers.

Simpson called it a "responsible" bill to improve infrastructure, and Kaptur called the Army Corps funding "robust."

According to Simpson, the bill would give the Army Corps $120 million more than last year's budget and $1.2 billion more than the fiscal 2018 budget request.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), ranking member of the full Appropriations Committee, expressed concern over a rider that would allow firearms on Army Corps project sites.

The Trump administration's fiscal 2018 budget would provide the Army Corps with roughly $5 billion, down from the omnibus spending bill funding of over $6 billion.

Reporters Geof Koss and Cecelia Smith-Schoenwalder contributed.

Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from E&E News. Copyright 2017. E&E provides essential news for energy and environment professionals at www.eenews.net