House panel approves energy spending bill

The House Appropriations Committee approved a $34 billion spending bill for the Department of Energy (DOE) and Army Corps of Engineers Wednesday.

The energy and water bill, which funds programs under the direction of DOE and the corps for fiscal year 2015,  also contains a number of controversial environmental riders.

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The legislation authored by Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) passed on a voice vote with few changes from the version unveiled earlier this month by the GOP.

Overall, the bill, a $50 million reduction from last year's funding levels, is an increase over President Obama's request for 2015. It would boost the coal industry by limiting Environmental Protection Agency rules.

One rider on mining waste, which has already taken effect, keeps the Army Corps of Engineers from working on a new rule for the waste left over from mining operations like mountain top removal called "fill material."

Another rider seeks to stop the EPA from clarifying its jurisdictional authority over certain bodies of water. While the EPA vows the rule does not extend its powers, but simply removes legal uncertainty, the GOP has called it a power grab.

“These efforts are fruitless attempts to legislate through regulation,” the chairman of the committee, Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said, saying the rule would be “crippling for the U.S. economy.”

The bill also increases funding for fossil fuel energy programs at cost of renewables.

Pressing for an “all of the above” energy strategy, the bill increases funding for research and development at the Energy Department for coal, natural gas, oil and other fossil fuel technologies, totaling $593 million. Renewable energy programs will be cut $113 million from last year's levels, coming in at $1.8 billion.

A main committee priority, detailed in a report out Tuesday, is to draw a distinction between the GOP's energy strategy and the administration's.

"Unfortunately, this budget request once again fails to reflect a coherent energy policy or plan for this country," committee Republicans wrote in the report. "The President continues to highlight an 'all of the above' energy portfolio in his speeches, but fails to present such a balanced approach in his budget requests."