Overnight Energy: Winners, losers in omnibus bill | EPA funding stands at $8.1b | Lawmakers get wildfire funding fix
OMNIBUS MANIA: Congress’s latest spending package proposal increases federal funding by $1.3 trillion and includes a number of changes to energy and environment programs and agencies, many which the White House previously wanted to cut.
Here are the most notable measures included in the omnibus package:
Ocean science and weather get a boost: The spending bill increases the budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) by $234 million which would help maintain key programs like the National Weather Service (NWS)– which the White House suggested cutting by 8 percent in its fiscal 2019 proposal. The service will now operate with a $1 billion budget, $34.3 million more than the fiscal 2017 level. Much of the money will go towards boosting weather forecasting programs including early natural disaster detection.
Yucca Mountain is halted: The legislation blocks attempts by the Department of Energy to restart construction permitting for the highly contentious nuclear storage site proposed for Nevada’s desert. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry has previously called restarting the program a “moral obligation.” The Obama administration cut off the licensing process in 2010 due to opposition from Nevada, but Republicans and the nuclear industry have been pushing since then to get it back on track. Congress designated the site in 1987 to be the nation’s sole repository for high-level nuclear waste, but it’s never been fully developed. The Trump administration in its budget earlier this year proposed putting $120 million into the Yucca Mountain storage program.
Money for “clean” coal: The spending bill includes $727 Million for “clean coal” technology development including investing in technology to capture carbon dioxide from coal burning and using it to improve oil production. In his State of the Union address in January, President Trump said his administration has “ended the war on beautiful, clean coal,” a policy point Trump ran on during the 2016 presidential campaign. Environmentalists have long pushed back that coal cannot be “clean” as it is one of the top contributors to air pollution. They argue that phasing out the fossil fuel is important to stopping climate change.
Push to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes: A rider in the bill will prevent ships from carrying the invasive Asian carp species between the Illinois River to the Great Lakes. The new language forces the Army Corps of Engineers to work to prevent vessels from carrying the fish into the lakes. An electric field has been erected to try and keep the species out. This was a big win for representatives of states surrounding the lakes, who have seen how the species wreaks havoc in the region’s ecosystem.
New funds for energy grid security: The omnibus pours an additional $18 million into energy infrastructure protection. The increased funding, supported by both Democrats and Republicans, will go toward protecting and modernizing federal infrastructure like power grids and power lines. The money will also fund research into how to best protect infrastructure security from cyber and physical attacks.
National Park Service gets help for maintenance backlog: The spending plan would give the National Park Service an increase of $255 million from the fiscal 2017 level. More than half of the increase–$185 million–goes towards addressing longstanding deferred maintenance backlogs within the service, including construction needs at ranger stations and on park roads. The agency estimates it has a maintenance backlog of more than $18 billion.
ARPA-E lives another day: The contested Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) will be funded in fiscal 2019 under the spending bill, with $353 million– a $47 million increase from its previous level. The funding rejects the Trump administration’s suggestion to eliminate the program entirely. The program focuses on funding transformational energy projects in their early stages. Developments under ARPA-E work on ways to generate, store, and use energy.
EPA GETS $8.1B: The spending bill rejects President Trump’s proposal to slash the EPA budget by 31 percent.
Lawmakers negotiating the omnibus appropriations bill instead chose to give the agency $8.1 billion for fiscal 2018, keeping it at the same funding level as 2017.
“The American people support investments in clean air and water, public lands, parks, and the arts and humanities, which are vital to the health and well-being of our communities and our economy,” Sen. Tom Udall (N.M.), the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee subcommittee responsible for the EPA, said in a statement.
“Together, we rejected the Trump administration’s proposal to make massive and dangerous budget cuts, and instead, we restored funding for the EPA,” Udall added.
The funding level represents a victory for Democrats, who argued that Trump’s cuts would be disastrous. But much of the GOP also opposed the 31 percent proposed cut.
The bill includes a handful of new policy provisions for the EPA, including one to exempt farms from having to report their air pollution to the EPA and a requirement that the agency treat wood burning as a carbon-neutral and renewable electricity source.
Read more here.
WILDFIRE FIX TOO: Lawmakers also got into the bill a major, bipartisan effort to overhaul how the U.S. government spends money to fight wildfires on federal land.
The provision is meant to cut down on a practice known as “fire borrowing” in which agencies like the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management move money meant to reduce fire risks and use it to fight fires.
It also would allow federal agencies to access disaster funds for particularly expensive fires.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers has for years been pushing the policies to give firefighting agencies more predictability in budgeting and cut down on taking funds from other areas.
The problem has been exacerbated in recent years as wildfires have grown more costly and deadlier, due to factors like climate change, drought and increasing development, according to federal researchers and land managers.
“Pacific Northwest lawmakers have worked together to force Congress to finally address the persistent shortfalls in our nation’s wildland firefighting budgets,” Sen. Maria Cantwell (Wash.), the top Democrat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and a leader in the fire effort, said in a statement.
“This puts an end to fire-borrowing and is a start to giving the Forest Service the predictable resources they need to reduce hazardous fuels. This funding boost will allow the Forest Service to prioritize work in areas closest to communities, in order to save lives and reduce the risk of property damage, while still protecting essential public lands and existing environmental laws.”
But not everyone’s happy.
Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, slammed the provision, saying it should have included reforms to increase removal of brush and trees from federal land.
“It doesn’t solve the problem. Solving the problem is stopping the damn fires, not spending more money to put them out once they get started,” Bishop said Thursday.
Republicans have supported Bishop’s proposals in the past, and the forestry industry would benefit from increased logging. He blamed Senate Democrats from eastern states, “who don’t know what a forest looks like,” for blocking his suggestions.
Read more here.
PERRY DEFENDS SAUDI NUCLEAR TALKS: Energy Secretary Rick Perry on Thursday defended the Trump administration’s negotiations with Saudi Arabia concerning a nuclear energy program, saying that while a deal needs to have nonproliferation standards, the United States also needs to be able to compete with Russia and China.
“I like to remind people that our choices at this particular point in time, it appears to me, either Russia or China is going to be a partner in building civil nuclear capability in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, or the United States,” Perry told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“I am very confident that the prior two have no requirements of nonproliferation, so I think it’s really incumbent upon us to sit down, to work as closely with the kingdom to not only bring them into our fold from the standpoint of being able to build that for them, our technology, our jobs being created, et cetera but also from having those additional protocols and the International Atomic Energy Agency with their ability to go in and make sure that they are in fact not involved in any activities that would be untoward,” he continued.
“I think it’s important for us to negotiate in a really good and a powerful way, but recognizing that the alternative of who they’re going to be doing business with is of great concern to me.”
Perry was responding to a question from committee ranking member Jack Reed (D-R.I.), who warned that he and others would oppose a deal without bans on enriching uranium and reprocessing spent fuel to produce plutonium.
“If such a deal was proposed where the Saudis would not be liable to and required to adhere to the standard, I would oppose it and I think many others would too,” Reed said.
Read more here.
AROUND THE WEB:
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is now three times the size of France, the Washington Post reports.
Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih says Saudi Aramco still may go public this year, CNBC reports.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
Check out Thursday’s stories …
-Hurricane Harvey’s toxic onslaught worse than first reported
-Lawmakers press FEMA on restoring power to Puerto Rico
-World’s carbon emissions grow to new record
-Lawmakers introduce bipartisan bill to speed up infrastructure permitting
-Perry cites competition from Russia, China to defend nuclear talks with Saudis
-Spending bill includes major wildfire overhaul
-Coal miners’ union to endorse Manchin
-Drillers give mixed response to Trump’s latest lease auctions
-Spending bill rejects Trump’s proposed EPA cut
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