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House panel set to vote on bill that cuts or eliminates some DOE science programs

The House of Representatives appropriations panel will vote Wednesday on a Department of Energy (DOE) spending bill that largely rejects deep 2018 cuts to science programs proposed by President Donald Trump. But the bill still imposes reductions on some programs in the biological and environmental sciences. And it would eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and two of DOE four research “Hubs,” on solar power and batteries.

A committee report on the bill released today offers details on the bill, which covers the 2018 fiscal year that begins on 1 October. A House appropriations subcommittee late last month approved the bill, which keeps overall funding for DOE’s Office of Science flat at $5.39 billion but imposes deep cuts on applied renewable energy programs. The full House spending panel will now vote on the proposal.

One of the Office of Science’s six divisions would see a spending cut under the bill, three would remain roughly flat, and two would receive increases.

  • Biological and environmental sciences would get a roughly 5% cut to $582 million, some $233 million above Trump’s request.
  • The basic energy science program would remain flat at $1.872 billion. That is nearly 4% above the White House’s request.
  • High energy physics would see flat spending of $825 million, 23% above the president’s request.
  • Nuclear physics would be cut by less than 1%, to $619 million, also 23% above the president’s request.
  • Fusion energy research would get a 4% increase, to $395 million, including $63 million for the ITER fusion research reactor now under construction in France. That is $85 million more than the White House request.
  • Advanced computing would get the biggest boost, a 7% increase to $694 million. That is 4% less than the $722 million that Trump had requested.

The committee report says the bill provides “strong support … for basic science programs, which provide the foundation for the new energy technologies that are vital to maintaining our global competitiveness and ensuring our country’s long-term prosperity, but that are often too high-risk to receive the attention of the private sector. In contrast, the recommendation provides limited resources for the applied energy research and development activities with the greatest opportunity for private sector backing.”

Other language in the bill:

  • Bars DOE from issuing any rules that use estimates of the “social cost of carbon” developed by former President Barak Obama’s administration. The social cost of carbon is a metric used to evaluate the costs of climate change. Critics have argued it overestimates the benefits of rules aimed at reducing emissions, and the Trump administration has vowed to remake how the cost of carbon is calculated.
  • Eliminates two of four DOE research “Hubs” created under the Obama administration. The hubs tagged for closure are dedicated to battery research and solar energy, but the bill includes $10 million “for competitive awards that continue similar research activities previously supported by the Hubs.”
  • Expresses concerns about DOE’s quest to build a world-leading exascale computer. The bill provides $170 million for the effort, but the report states that “the Committee is concerned that the deployment plan for an exascale machine has undergone major changes without an appropriately defined cost and performance baseline.” It orders DOE to provide an update on its plans for the machine within 90 days of the final passage of the appropriations bill.

At Wednesday’s full committee vote, members of the appropriations panel are expected to try to restore funding for ARPA-E and offer other amendments. The bill would then go to the full House floor. The Senate has yet to work on its version of the DOE spending bill, and many observers expect Congress will not be able to complete its work on appropriations by the start of the 2018 fiscal year. Instead, lawmakers might simply extend 2017 spending levels into 2018 under a continuing resolution.

*Correction, 11 July, 6:08 p.m.: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that DOE's basic energy sciences program would see a cut under the House bill. It remains flat. We regret the error.