AP NEWS

House budget proposal would boost energy funds

May 16, 2019

The House Appropriations Committee has released an initial proposal to fund federal energy and water spending for fiscal year 2020, recommending a $1.8 billion increase over the last fiscal year.

Included in the proposal are a variety of projects that affect New Mexico and would increase spending for nuclear weapons work at Los Alamos National Laboratory, cleanup of environmental contamination at the lab and other sites, and temporary storage of spent nuclear fuel in southeastern New Mexico.

The draft bill stands as a counterpoint to the White House’s budget proposal in March and funnels more money into renewable energy and less into nuclear weapons activity, including weapons modernization and infrastructure — though still substantially more money than was allocated last year.

House lawmakers said in a news release that their proposal “rejects the President’s drastic, short-sighted cuts” and maintains funding for several energy programs eliminated in the Trump administration’s budget proposal — including maintaining and increasing funding for ARPA-E, a program that explores early stage research to generate, store and use new energy; keeping a federal loan program for new technologies not yet part of the commercial market; and retaining federal power transmission assets the White House proposal would privatize.

The House bill outlines over $1 billion more in funding for the Department of Energy than what was allocated last year and $5.6 billion more than the White House requested for the agency, with nearly half the increase going to energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.

Congress also suggested slightly different nuclear weapons and cleanup funding.

Lawmakers allocated $15.9 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the nuclear science and development arm of the agency, compared to the $16.5 billion sought by the president. That is $600 million less than the White House request but still remains nearly half of the entire budget for the Department of Energy. And while it’s less money than the White House wanted, the agency would still see an increase of more than $665 million over last year.

The White House suggested cutting millions in funding for cleaning up environmental contamination that resulted from nuclear weapons production, including numerous projects at Los Alamos. The Democrat-controlled House outlined stable funding levels for those projects. The bill allots $706 million more than the president suggested for environmental management, most of which would go to cleaning up nuclear and toxic waste.

Funding also was proposed by Congress to “begin interim storage activities” for the high-level commercial nuclear waste that results from operating nuclear power plants. Companies in New Mexico and Texas are applying for licences to operate temporary storage sites to hold spent fuel rods, although no permanent location for this waste currently exists.

While $1.3 billion — about a half-billion more than the White House request — is allotted for nuclear energy in the bill, the document doesn’t specify how much would go to storage or exactly how the federal money would be used.

Environmental groups praised the committee’s funding strategy Tuesday, saying it is does a better job of prioritizing environmental protections and climate action than the president’s budget.

“The proposed increase in support is long overdue and should be part of any funding package put on the president’s desk for signature,” said Elizabeth Gore, senior vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund.

The draft bill will undergo the first round of negotiations in a subcommittee hearing Wednesday.