House committee approves spending bill for energy, water programs

House committee approves spending bill for energy, water programs
© Greg Nash

The House Appropriations Committee approved a $37.6 billion annual spending bill for the Department of Energy and water infrastructure programs on Wednesday.

The committee vote prepares the bill for possible final consideration by the House. The panel passed the bill by voice vote, without a recorded tally, though Democrats objected to numerous provisions contained in the measure.

The legislation for fiscal 2018 would reduce funding for the programs in its jurisdiction by $203 million compared with 2017 on an annualized basis.

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But the bill is $3.2 billion above the drastic cuts that President Trump had sought as part of his effort to shift $54 billion from nondefense programs to defense ones.

“Increases over last year are targeted to those areas where they are most needed to drive our nation’s defense and to support our nation’s infrastructure,” said Rep. Mike SimpsonMIchael (Mike) Keith SimpsonHouse committee approves spending bill for energy, water programs Perry cites ‘moral obligation’ to build Yucca nuclear waste site House panel passes .4 billion energy, water funding bill MORE (R-Idaho), chairman of the subcommittee responsible for the Energy Department and the Army Corps of Engineers' water programs.

“This is a responsible bill, one that makes some difficult choices in order to prioritize our most critical federal programs,” he said.

Democrats criticized the bill primarily for its deep cuts to Energy Department programs such as the Office of Efficiency and Renewable Energy — which would be cut by about half — and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which would be eliminated.

“I strongly disapprove of the choice to shun the energy accounts that will invent our future, most notably the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy,” said Rep. Marcy KapturMarcia (Marcy) Carolyn KapturHouse committee approves spending bill for energy, water programs House panel passes .4 billion energy, water funding bill Bill would require trade deals to be publicly available before fast-track vote MORE (D-Ohio), the top Democrat on the subcommittee responsible for the bill.

“Technology is reality, and it’s changing our nation and our world,” she said. “And we must lead, or choose to be left behind as new energy horizons are invented elsewhere.”

Democrats proposed numerous amendments to restore the funding to those two programs. Though many Republicans, including Simpson, expressed support for adding money to the programs, the amendments either failed or were withdrawn.

Simpson stood up strongly for ARPA-E and hinted that the funding might be restored later in the process, such as when lawmakers negotiate with the Senate on a final funding bill.

“This is one of the difficult choices that needed to be made in this bill. I will tell you, I happen to like ARPA-E,” he said.

“The department should not take actions to shut down ARPA-E until Congress directs it to by law,” Simpson warned. “We’ll see how this turns out by the time we get through the floor and to final consideration on conference with the Senate … until then, they should keep ARPA-E open and going.”

The panel rejected an amendment proposed by Kaptur to remove all of the policy rider provisions from the bill. That includes a provision to make it easier for the Army Corps and the Environmental Protection Agency to repeal the Obama administration’s Clean Water Rule and one to allow firearms on certain Army Corps land.

Kaptur also proposed an amendment to require the Army Corps to publicly release a study it has completed about how to prevent the invasive Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes watershed.

Her amendment received support, but she agreed to withdraw it and to try to work with the agency on the issue.