House Approves $30.4 Billion Energy and Water Appropriations Bill

Though it accounts for just a fraction of the $1+ trillion discretionary budget under the purview of the Appropriations Committees, the annual $30 billion Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act embodies the ongoing debate over the extent to which Congress should invest in our nation’s infrastructure, and how it should balance domestic versus national security needs.

Last week that debate captured the spotlight on House floor.

On July 10, by a vote of 227-198, the House approved its version of the Energy and Water bill after a lengthy debate focused primarily on where this country ought to invest its limited resources in energy research, renewable energy, conservation, the nation’s nuclear stockpile and water infrastructure. The House-passed bill is $8.3 billion below the amount appropriated in fiscal year 2013 before the sequester was implemented, and $4.4 billion below the amount voted by the Senate Appropriations Committee in its version of the bill.

The House bill cuts in half funding for renewable and other green energy programs administered by the Department of Energy. In its report accompanying the bill, the House Appropriations Committee states that “the Committee considers the national defense programs, run by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), to be the Department of Energy’s top priority.” However, even the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is not spared the chopping block; the agency is funded at $11.3 billion, $236 million below the amount appropriated in fiscal year 2013.

In previous years, popular water projects in key Congressional Districts helped to secure the votes for the Energy and Water bill. Although Members of Congress are no longer allowed to request “earmarks” for water projects, the bill continues to fund projects included in the President’s budget by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Civil Works programs of the Army Corps are one of the few items that received an increase ($50 million) above the President’s budget request.

Although it passed the House and is now awaiting Senate floor action, probably later this summer, the huge difference in overall funding between the House and Senate bills and each chamber’s differing focus on domestic infrastructure investment versus NNSA programs will make it very difficult for the Energy and Water Act to ever be reconciled. More likely, this small stepchild of the appropriations bills will be rolled into a larger omnibus or continuing resolution package at the end of the year.

This outlook is expected to be similar for most, if not all, of the appropriations bills this year. The gap between the House and Senate funding levels, lack of motivation to finish the process, and an expected battle over the debt ceiling this fall, may mean the best we can hope for is a continuing resolution. This does not mean that the messages included in each Chamber’s report or their prioritization of programs within their respective bills is all for naught. These important provisions provide clues to what Congress sees as important, as well as gives advocacy organizations the fodder they need to convince the administration to continue these programs.

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