House Appropriators Deliver $1B Boost for DOE

The House Appropriations Committee yesterday dispatched to the full House a fiscal 2008 spending bill that would boost renewable energy and climate programs as part of an overall increase for the Energy Department.

At the same time, the measure would cut funding for a major DOE nuclear power initiative, slash nuclear weapons programs and curtail efforts to expand the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

The bill provides DOE with $25.2 billion, roughly $1.1 billion above the current fiscal year and nearly a half billion dollars more than the White House request. The legislation also funds the Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation and some independent agencies, with $31.6 billion set aside in total under the committee's version of the Energy and Water Development bill.

The DOE funding includes nearly $1.9 billion for renewable energy and efficiency programs, a boost of over $600 million compared to the White House request. Funding for wind, solar, biofuels and vehicle technology programs all received increases, while the bill rejected a White House proposal to end funding for geothermal energy research and development.

The biofuels and vehicle technology R&D programs together would receive nearly a half billion dollars.

Hydrogen R&D funding is below the White House budget. The benefits of most hydrogen research programs will not be realized until around 2050, the committee argued in its report language, so they were cut in favor of renewables programs with near-term benefits.

On nuclear energy, the bill provides far less than the White House requested for its controversial Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, or GNEP. The White House wanted $405 million but the committee provided $120 million, calling the program's aggressive focus on fuel recycling "at best premature."

Instead, the committee substantially boosts funding for a separate nuclear program called Generation IV to develop next-wave reactors. That program would get $115 million, which is over three times greater than both the current level and the budget request. The bill matches the administration request for the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

The bill also provides $6.67 billion for environmental cleanups at DOE nuclear sites, according to the committee, which is above the White House request.

Elsewhere, it would authorize $7 billion in loans for advanced energy technologies, compared to the $9 billion level in the president's request. Of this $7 billion, $4 billion would go to projects that promote biofuels and other "clean" transportation fuels, $2 billion for "carbon sequestration optimized coal power plants," and $1 billion for electric transmission or renewable power generation systems.

Climate, science programs boosted

The bill also increases funding for DOE science programs, providing $4.5 billion for these accounts, including more than $158 million for climate change science, the committee said.

Elsewhere on climate technologies, the bill would boost funding for carbon sequestration to $132 million, compared to $79 million in the White House request.

According to the report language, total funding in the bill linked to addressing climate change is $3.4 billion, claiming this is $1.1 billion more than requested. Accounts in this total, the report states, include funding on conservation, non-emitting energy technologies and climate research.

FutureGen, existing plants

The bill would fund the FutureGen program at the requested level of $108 million. FutureGen aims to build a nearly emissions-free, coal-fired power plant that produces both power and hydrogen. The bill would also fund the Clean Coal Power Initiative at the requested level of $73 million.

The committee splits with the administration on funding for efforts to control carbon emissions from existing coal-fired plants. The White House requested no funding for a program on innovations to existing plants, the report language states, while the committee would provide $50 million. Report language cites the need for a "rigorous" research program on retrofitting existing plants for carbon capture and sequestration.

Oil and technologies

Lawmakers are once again declining White House requests to completely end funding for DOE's oil and gas technologies programs. Instead, the committee provides limited funds, noting that the Energy Policy Act of 2005 already authorized the use of $50 million in mandatory receipts for oil and gas technologies.

The bill would fund oil technologies at $2.7 million, $1.5 million of which would go to the Stripper Well Consortium and the rest for the states' Risk-Based Data Management System, the committee report states. On the natural gas side, the bill provides $12 million for research into methane hydrates, an abundant resource that is far from commercial development.

Committee attacks SPR expansion plan

The bill would provide roughly level funding for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve at $163 million, far less than the $332 million sought by the White House. The administration wants to double the size of the reserve over the next two decades to 1.5 billion barrels of oil.

But the committee report cites cost estimates of $10 billion for new facilities and $55 billion to buy the oil, and also notes a Government Accountability Office report last year calling for review of the optimal oil mix.

"Given the analytical shortcomings of the expansion plan, and the enormous cost and timeframe of the expansion, the committee does not support proceeding with the expansion at this time," the report language states.

Electricity amendment rejected

The committee defeated an amendment that would have blocked DOE's ability to implement the program that creates "national interest electric transmission" corridors. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorized DOE to designate areas of the country where the transmission grid is congested and more infrastructure is needed.

In these areas, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would be given "backstop authority" to consider and approve transmission construction proposals if individual states either do not approve the projects or do not act on them within one year.

An amendment by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) would have blocked DOE from using fiscal 2008 money on designating corridors and blocked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission from issuing permits for transmission facilities. Hinchey, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and other lawmakers decry the program as a federal power grab that tramples states' rights.

But the amendment was turned back on a 30-35 vote. "This may be a classic case of NIMBY," said Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), who opposed the amendment, adding, "it's a national issue, it needs national solutions."

Corps funding boosted

The bill would provide roughly $5.6 billion for Army Corps' flood control, navigation, storm protection and environmental restoration projects, which is more than $700 million above what the White House requested.

Debate on earmarks

Lawmakers sparred over Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey's (D-Wis.) decision to leave earmarks out of the bill for now. The chairman has said he plans to allow their inclusion at a later date but warned he will not be rushed. "If we can't do it right, I guarantee we ain't going to do it at all," he said.

Obey said leaving the bill free of earmarks for now focuses the debate on the policy aspects of the bill. He said he wanted members to vote for appropriations bills "on the merits."

But California Rep. Jerry Lewis, the ranking Republican, said the bill contains billions of dollars in unspecified funding for water projects. Lewis said this could place the House in a "very dangerous and exposed position" when it comes time to conference with the Senate.

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