House bill cuts renewable energy budget

JIM ABRAMS,Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House on Wednesday voted to slash money for renewable energy research and defy the Obama administration’s decision to close the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in a bare-bones annual spending bill for energy and water programs.

The Republican-crafted bill has little support in the Democratic-led Senate and faces a White House veto, but makes clear the stark divisions over policy as Congress and the White House look toward an autumn showdown over spending, taxes and the debt ceiling.

The bill, which passed 227-198, approves $30.4 billion for Energy Department programs, Army Corps of Engineers projects and Energy Department nuclear weapons maintenance for the budget year beginning in October. That’s $2.9 billion below what was enacted for 2013, before the automatic cuts or sequestration kicked in, and $4.1 billion below what President Barack Obama asked for in his budget proposal.

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It is one of the 12 spending bills Congress is supposed to pass every year to pay for the operations of 15 Cabinet departments and other federal agencies.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved a $34.8 billion energy and water bill.

Budget restrictions the Republican House is adhering to, including prospects for a second year of automatic cuts, “made for some very difficult decisions,” said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., chairman of the appropriations panel that determines Energy Department spending levels. He said he expected the private sector to take up some of the slack in applied energy research and development.

Money for renewable energy and energy efficiency programs would be cut to less than $1 billion, about half of last year’s total, while the budget for research into futuristic energy technologies would plummet some $195 million from the pre-sequester 2013 level to $70 million.

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The bill provides $430 million for fossil fuel research and $656 million for nuclear energy, down about 19 percent and 14 percent respectively from 2013. The National Nuclear Security Administration, the Energy Department agency responsible for managing the nuclear weapons stockpile, would get $11.3 billion, down about $236 million from the current year. Frelinghuysen noted that there was no money in the bill to implement Obama’s recent pledge to reduce the nuclear stockpile.

The bill, said Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, top Democrat on the energy and water subcommittee, “abandons America’s quest for energy independence, which has the potential to create millions of new jobs.”

Democrats failed in several attempts to shift money from the nuclear weapons budget to renewable energy and energy efficiency programs.

“The priorities that are in this bill are dead wrong,” said Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., questioning the $7.6 billion budget for nuclear weapons when he can’t get Army Corps assistance to prevent floods that threaten his northern California district.

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The bill would bar the Army Corps and Environmental Protection Agency from updating Clean Water Act regulations on non-navigable waters and on materials, including mining waste, that enter waterways. Democrats tried to remove those provisions but failed.

The White House has already issued a blanket veto threat against all House spending bills, saying the House and Senate must work out a budgetary framework that better supports the nation’s needs. Specifically, it said in its veto threat that the energy and water bill “drastically underfunds critical investments that develop American energy sources to build a clean and secure energy future.”

The bill would set aside $25 million to sustain the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository project despite attempts by the administration to cut off money for the project. Amendments by Nevada lawmakers to redirect that money or facilitate the closing of the project were defeated. Lawmakers who support the project say there is yet no viable alternative for storing nuclear waste.

The energy and water bill is the third of the 12 appropriations bills that the House has passed. The Senate has yet to pass one. With lawmakers off in August it appears certain Congress will once again have to come up with a stopgap spending measure in September to avoid a government shutdown.

Reaching a budget compromise to keep the government running will not be easy. Senate Democrats passed a budget in March, unacceptable to Republicans, that calls for new taxes and spending cuts to replace sequestration. Democrats and the White House, meanwhile, oppose Republican demands that a higher debt ceiling this autumn be linked to more spending cuts.