House of Representatives Passes Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill

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Publication date: 
14 July 2014

The House of Representatives has completed work on the appropriations bill funding the Department of Energy in Fiscal Year 2015.  The $34 billion bill was passed last Thursday night by a vote of 253-170. 

Under this bill, H.R. 4923, funding for the DOE Office of Science would increase $4.6 million or 0.1 percent in FY 2015.  The National Nuclear Security Administration would receive an increase of $154.6 million or 1.4 percent above current funding.  The bill also provides $150.0 million for nuclear waste disposal at Yucca Mountain for which the Obama Administration requested no funding.  Members discussed each of these programs during consideration of amendments to the bill that took two days.

Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL) offered the only amendments regarding the Office of Science.  The first would have shifted $40.2 million from the National Nuclear Security Administration to the Office of Science.  Foster explained the additional funding would restore funding to the level of the Administration’s request.  “My amendment would ensure that our national labs are on a sound footing to maintain our role as a global leader in innovation and scientific research” he said.  Foster continued, “The investments in the DOE Office of Science have also supported research driven by intellectual curiosity alone, such as the discovery science at the forefront of high energy and particle physics, astronomy, or the physics of ultracold atoms.  These investments have led to the development of new technology such as the construction of accelerators and detectors that enable our scientists to discover new particles, including the top quark, the heaviest known form of matter, and the Higgs boson, that help explain the fundamental nature of the universe.  But perhaps most importantly, the Office of Science has supported the training of scientists, mathematicians, and engineers for more than 60 years.”

Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID) explained his opposition to Foster’s amendment as follows: “Mr. Chairman, I am concerned that the amendment proposes to shift funding from defense to nondefense functions.  Assuring funding for the modernization of our nuclear weapons stockpile is a critical national security priority in this bill. Shifting funding between defense and nondefense allocations would have negative repercussions on every appropriations bill by exceeding the Ryan-Murray budget caps that trigger sequestration.  I share my colleague’s support for the programs within the Office of Science, and I will be happy to work with him in the event we have additional funding for the basic energy science program in conference. However, I must oppose the amendment as written, and urge others to do the same.”

At that point, Foster withdrew his amendment.  A second amendment he offered on behalf of Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) would transfer $300,000 within the Office of Science account to restore funding for the National Undergraduate Fellowship Program (NUF).  The Administration proposed to eliminate funding for NUF in order to increase funding for the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships (SULI).  Foster explained “Our amendment would simply reallocate the additional SULI funding back to NUF, allowing the program to continue.  The elimination of NUF would reduce the overall slots available forthose wishing to study plasma physics.  Additionally, the goal of NUF is to support a very specific workforce need, and an analysis of the numbers proves that this program has been remarkably successful, particularly in encouraging female participation in the sciences.”  Foster noted, “The program has succeeded in encouraging women to study plasma physics. The Division of Plasma Physics of the American Physical Society has a female composition of only 7 percent, yet 51 percent of female NUF participants enter a Ph.D. program, with almost half of those entering the plasma physics Ph.D. program.”  The American Physical Society is a Member Society of the American Institute of Physics.  Foster also cited a June 21, 2014 report by the Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee in his remarks.  Foster explained “The adoption of our amendment today will help address this point inpart, but we would also like to state our opposition to the Department of Energy’s plan to remove precollege science education activities from its mission portfolio.”  Simpson responded that he agreed with the amendment and it was passed by a voice vote.

The $150.0 million the bill provided for the Yucca Mountain program would have been eliminated under an amendment proposed by Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV).  This amendment was rejected by a vote of 75-344, as was, by a similar margin, her amendment to eliminate the bill’s language prohibiting the administration from using money to close the site. 

There was also discussion about the bill providing $149.0 million above the request for Savannah River’s Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility. This funding would sustain the current pace of construction for the facility, rejecting the Administration’s proposal to put it into cold standby while other options are explored for dealing with the 34 metric tons of weapons grade plutonium now at the site awaiting disposal.  Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) sought to transfer $25.0 million from this MOX account to other nonproliferation accounts.  While ultimately withdrawing his amendment, it gave him, subcommittee chairman Simpson, subcommittee ranking member Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) an opportunity to discuss the important decisions DOE and Congress will ultimately make about the MOX facility.  Another amendment to reduce funding for the weapons program at the National Nuclear Security Administration by $7.6 million was rejected by a vote of 181-239.

Three amendments were offered and passed by margins of thirty to forty votes to bar the Department of Energy from conducting specific types of climate change research.

The Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee has finished work on its version of the FY 2015 funding bill.  The details of this bill will not be released until the full Senate Appropriations Committee approves the bill.  Consideration of this bill was postponed because of a dispute about an EPA program to control power plant emissions.  No new date has been set.