Senate Moving Fast on DOE Spending Bill that Defunds ITER

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Publication date: 
20 April 2016
Number: 
47

The Senate is moving rapidly to pass a Department of Energy appropriations bill which would provide a $50 million increase to the Office of Science and zero out funding for the ITER fusion project.

Note: You can follow the spending proposals and outcomes of the fiscal year 2017 budget process for the agencies that sponsor the physical sciences using AIP’s new Federal Science Budget Tracker. The Tracker is updated on a rolling basis as new budget information becomes available.

Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved the Energy and Water Development appropriations bill which funds the Department of Energy (DOE) as well as the Army Corps of Engineers. The full Senate began floor consideration of the bill today.

The Senate has chosen to move quickly this year because the legislative calendar for both chambers is compressed due to the upcoming presidential election and because the House—which usually acts first on appropriations bills—has not yet been able to agree on an overall spending framework. The House has however begun to advance some appropriations bills, including the Energy-Water bill which the House Appropriations Committee passed yesterday.

In the committee markup, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TX)—the chief Republican architect of the Energy-Water bill—summarized its major themes as follows:

The bill we’ve negotiated invests in waterways, puts us one step closer to doubling our basic energy research, helps to resolve the nuclear waste stalemate, cleans up hazardous materials at Cold War sites, and maintains our nuclear weapons stockpile. It also cuts wasteful spending. This year we have again eliminated the funding the U.S. contributes to a fusion project in France called ITER. This saves $125 million dollars. We’ve agreed not to include controversial riders, and we are bipartisan in our approach.

Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Alexander’s Democratic counterpart on the Energy-Water subcommittee, expressed support for the bill, saying that although she wished they could have funded the president’s Mission Innovation initiative, she believes the overall funding amount provided to the committee is “just.”

However, the White House released a statement today indicating that the president will likely veto the bill, in part because it “underfunds critical energy research and development activities and fails to put us on an achievable path toward doubling clean energy research and development by FY 2021.” The statement also notes that the Administration specifically objects to the funding levels for ARPA-E, the Office of Science, and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy which are significantly lower than the requested amounts.

The below table summarizes the topline funding levels from the Senate bill. Additional summary tables which compare funding levels from the Senate and House bills with the corresponding figures from the president’s budget request for various key subaccounts are provided in AIP’s Federal Science Budget Tracker.

FY17 Senate DOE Appropriations Summary Table

Funding Line FY15
Current
FY16
Enacted
FY17
Request*
Change
16-17
Senate Change
16-17
DOE 27,391.2 29,602.7 30,240.0 2.2% 30,741.3 3.7%
NNSA 11,396.7 12,526.5 12,884.0 2.9% 12,867.2 2.7%
Office of Science 5,132.8 5,350.2 5,572.1 4.1% 5,400.0 0.9%
Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy 1,840.8 2,073.0 2,898.4 39.8% 2,073.0 0.0%
Nuclear Energy 821.9 986.2 993.9 0.8% 1,057.9 7.3%
Fossil Energy 783.8 869.1 638.5 -26.5% 853.5 -1.8%
ARPA-E 280.0 291.0 350.0 20.3% 292.7 0.6%

* Excludes $1.585 billion in proposed mandatory spending, of which $1.335 billion is for the 21st Century Clean Transportation Plan, $150 million is for ARPA-E, and $100 million is for the Office of Science.

** All figures are in millions of nominal U.S. dollars.

Overall, the Senate bill would provide slight increases for the Office of Science and ARPA-E, reverse proposed cuts to fossil energy programs, flat fund renewable energy programs, and provide robust increases for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and nuclear energy programs.

3rd iteration of Senate committee axing ITER

This is the third year in a row that the Senate Appropriations Committee has moved to eliminate funding for the ITER fusion project. Feinstein argued that this decision is necessary to support domestic science, saying

 In order to boost domestic science programs, we made the tough decision to cut funding for the ITER project. This decision was carefully considered and absolutely necessary in order to make key investments in our national laboratories and universities.

In contrast to the Senate bill, the House bill would fully fund the president’s $125 million request for ITER.

The outlook for ITER will likely stay cloudy until DOE submits its recommendation to Congress on May 2 as to whether or not the U.S. should withdraw from the project. Both the House and Senate have signaled that a strong statement by DOE in favor or against participating in ITER could lead them to alter their stance.

Notably, the House Science Committee held a hearing on ITER today at which the Director General of the ITER Organization, Bernard Bigot, testified. This hearing may provide additional insight into how key House members currently perceive the project’s value.

Highlights from the Senate committee report

The lengthy committee report accompanying the bill provides extensive commentary and instructions for various DOE programs. The DOE section begins on page 57. Below is a summary of some highlights from the report.

Department-Wide

  • Cross-cutting initiatives: Instructs DOE to prioritize available funds for the proposed cross-cutting initiatives (such as exascale computing, subsurface science, and advanced materials) in cases where the appropriations do not match the requests for these activities.
  • Lab outreach: Encourages the national labs to increase their geographic outreach and participation in regional partnerships.
  • Mission Innovation: Argues that the goals of the Mission Innovation initiative are best pursued through the national labs, the Office of Science, and ARPA-E.
  • CRENEL: Directs DOE to submit a report to Congress on the department’s progress in implementing the recommendations of the Commission to Review the Effectiveness of the National Energy Laboratories.
  • LDRD: Directs DOE to instruct national lab contractors to not allocate overhead costs to laboratory directed research and development.

Office of Science

  • BRAIN Initiative: Supports usage of DOE’s user facilities and computing expertise in support of the BRAIN Initiative as well as the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative.
  • Advanced Scientific Computing Research: Fully funds the Exascale Computing Project and the three Leadership Computing Facilities.
  • Basic Energy Sciences: Fully funds Linac Coherent Light Source-II construction and provides an additional $30 million for the Advanced Photon Source Upgrade.
  • Biological and Environmental Research: Directs DOE to review the findings of the National Academies report Climate Intervention: Reflecting Sunlight to Cool Earth and to study the potential impacts of albedo modification, a potential method of geoengineering.
  • Fusion Energy Sciences: Justifies zeroing out funding for the ITER project.
  • High Energy Physics: Strongly supports DOE’s efforts to implement the Particle Physics Project Prioritization Panel report recommendations and provides an additional $10 million for the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility.
  • Nuclear Physics: Supports the 2015 Long Range Plan for Nuclear Science and fully funds the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams and the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider.

NNSA

  • Warhead Life Extension Programs: Fully funds all life extension programs.
  • Nuclear cruise missile: Directs DOE and the Nuclear Weapons Council to submit a report to Congress on the military justification for the proposed Long Range Stand-Off Missile.
  • Advanced Photon Source: Cites the Dynamic Compression Sector experiment as a successful collaboration between NNSA, the Office of Science, and an academic institution, and encourages NNSA to use this model in the future.
  • Workforce development: Provides an additional $10 million for the Stockpile Responsiveness Program which is meant to provide the nuclear weapons workforce with more opportunities to exercise the full range of weapons stewardship and design skills.
  • Exascale collaboration: Expresses concern over potential duplication of effort on exascale computing between NNSA and the Office of Science and directs DOE to submit a report to Congress describing each organization’s roles and responsibilities in this arena.
  • Mo-99: Directs DOE to request sufficient funds to support domestic producers of Mo-99 and urges DOE to reconsider the cost sharing caps.
  • Nonproliferation R&D: Softens the proposed cut to nonproliferation research and development.
  • Manhattan Project National Historical Park: Directs DOE to submit an implementation plan to Congress which details actions needed to make Manhattan Project sites available to the public.

Nuclear Energy

  • Nuclear waste disposal: Specifies that DOE should advance efforts to consolidate spent nuclear fuel at one or more interim storage facilities and supports DOE’s consent-based siting approach.
  • Small modular reactors: Directs DOE to submit a report to Congress which assesses government and private sector actions needed to develop and deploy small modular reactors.
  • Light water reactors: Provides direction to DOE’s research program on light water reactor sustainability, emphasizing the goal of extending lifespans of U.S. nuclear reactors from 60 to 80 years.

About the author

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