Senate votes to increase energy research funding

The Senate passed an amendment Wednesday to increase the funding for a key Energy Department’s research agency.

The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and other senators from both parties, provides for an increase of about $32 million for the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E), for a total of $325 million for fiscal-year 2017.

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It was the first set of amendment votes for the appropriations bill for energy and water, the first appropriations bill to hit the Senate floor. Senators also voted down a Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) amendment to defund four regional authorities, federally funded agencies that exist mainly to help spur development in specific rural areas.

Schatz’ amendment grows ARPA-E’s funding by taking away unspent money from other programs in previous years.

Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh confirmation in sudden turmoil Cruz gets help from Senate GOP in face of serious challenge from O’Rourke MORE (R-Tenn.), chairman of the energy and water appropriations subcommittee and the bill’s floor manager, joined Schatz in supporting the increased funding. He noted that the bill he proposed already gave an increase to ARPA-E, one of two non-defense agencies that got increased funding in a time of budget constraints.

“He found an offset so it is paid for, so we're reducing other spending to increase this spending,” Alexander said. “We should do more of this energy research, but we should do it by reducing other spending.”

The amendment passed 70-26.

Ernst’s amendment would take away $200 million from the regional commissions. She said the agencies are “wasteful,” and provide funding to projects and purposes that often are already getting federal money.

“What we are doing is stating that we shouldn't be providing separate funds for very specific regions and duplicating processes that are found in the federal government,” she said, pointing to projects like ski jumps and a maple processing facility that have gotten money through the programs.

Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinOvernight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens Bipartisan group wants to lift Medicaid restriction on substance abuse treatment More Dems come out in public opposition to Kavanaugh MORE (D-Md.) opposed the amendment, saying places like Maryland depend on the Appalachian Regional Commission for economic development.

“The Appalachian Regional Commission is absolutely essential for the economic growth of western Maryland. 

“The Appalachian region is a region of a proud history, and we've given them a future, and the Ernst amendment would take away one of the most important tools towards their future.”

The amendment failed 25-71.