Coal industry gets boost in $34B spending bill

A House Appropriations Committee subpanel on Tuesday approved a $34 billion funding measure for the Department of Energy and Army Corps of Engineers that contains several controversial environmental riders.  

The 2015 Energy and Water bill, authored by Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), passed on a voice vote without amendment and now heads to a full committee markup as early as next week.

The measure contains two controversial provisions aimed at boosting the coal industry by limiting Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

One rider on mining waste is already in effect, after full committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) fought to have it included in January’s omnibus spending bill.

The language would keep the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from working on a new rule this year on “fill material” — the waste left over from mining operations like mountain top removal. 

“That would shut down coal mines throughout the country,” Rogers said Tuesday.

A second new rider is aimed at stopping the EPA from using the Clean Water Act to regulate activities in smaller bodies of water.

“These efforts are fruitless attempts to legislate through regulation,” Rogers said, saying the rule would be “crippling for the U.S. economy.”

The bill also contains a funding boost for fossil fuels.

The House GOP is increasing 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.

Elsewhere, the controversial proposed nuclear waste facility at Yucca Mountain in Nevada will receive $150 million for its disposal program, and the legislation presses the administration to move forward on the site's license application.

Some of the nation’s nuclear weapons activities are funded by the bill. It provides $11.4 billion for Energy Department nuclear weapons security programs, a $155 million jump from last fiscal year.

— Laura Barron-Lopez contributed.