GOP bill would cut renewable energy spending in half

House appropriators on Monday revealed that they plan to cut Energy Department spending on renewable energy in half next year as part of their plan to cope with automatic sequestration cuts in fiscal 2014.

Renewable energy, a key priority for President Obama, would be cut to $1 billion, a reduction of $911 million compared to 2013.

The cut comes as part of an Energy and Water appropriations bill, the fifth that the House is moving as part of a plan to produce all 12 annual spending bills at the topline $967 billion level called for in the 2011 sequestration law.

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The House is increasing defense spending above the sequester level and must cut non-defense spending in order to offset those increases. The Energy Department oversees the nation’s nuclear arsenal, so defense spending is part of its appropriations bill.

“In a challenging fiscal environment, we have to prioritize funding, and the Subcommittee chose to address the readiness and safety of the nation’s nuclear stockpile and to invest in critical infrastructure projects to protect lives and property and support economic growth,” said subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.).

Nuclear security receives $661 million above the sequester level in the bill, for a total of $11.3 billion in spending next year. That is a 2 percent — or $235 million — decrease from the 2013 level before sequestration went into effect on March 1. Within this area though, nonproliferation is cut by $334 million.

In addition to the renewable energy program cuts, the House GOP plan would also require steep cuts to the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, a program authorized in 2007 legislation that first received funding under the 2009 stimulus law.

ARPA-E funds so-called high-risk, high-reward research into cutting-edge, breakthrough energy technologies.

The new bill also continues a years-long effort by Republicans to stop the White House from abandoning plans to store high-level nuclear waste at Nevada's Yucca Mountain.

The bill would also prevent the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from implementing rules known as  "administrative guidance" that expands the scope of waters regulated under the Clean Water Act.

Republicans and some coal-country Democrats are wary of Obama administration initiatives to increase protections for Appalachian streams affected by mining operations, among other concerns with administration water policies.

Other aspects of the bill see more minor reductions from 2013. The Army Corps of Engineers sees a 2 percent cut, environmental cleanup gets a 4 percent cut and the science budget gets a $233 million cut, bringing the budget to $4.7 billion. 

Elsewhere, the bill would create new restrictions on the Energy Department’s loan guarantee program. It prevents the department from "subordinating" taxpayers’ interest to other investors.

The provision stems from the controversy over the September 2011 collapse of the federally backed solar panel company Solyndra, which had received more than a half-billion dollars in federal loans.

Republicans have attacked the Energy Department’s early 2011 restructuring the Solyndra loan that put private investors — who were providing additional capital to the struggling firm — ahead of taxpayers for repayment if the company collapsed. 

They say the Energy Department should not have put private investors ahead of the government for repayment if the company dissolved, which it eventually did, while department officials said the decision was part of last-ditch efforts to save the company and the federal investment.