Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee

Although the new year might bring partisan gridlock in Congress, a bipartisan push for a major R&D initiative could materialize. Meanwhile, more routine science policy matters will be affected by turnover in congressional committee leadership.

The House passed a sweeping energy policy reform package last month that includes expansive new direction to the Department of Energy’s applied R&D programs and recommends significant funding increases for renewable energy, fission and fusion energy, and carbon capture.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s long-awaited energy innovation legislation is in limbo after a dispute broke out during floor debate over proposed add-on provisions.

The House is proposing steady funding for the Department of Energy’s nuclear and fossil energy R&D programs and significant increases for renewable energy and grid-related R&D. The Senate, meanwhile, is proposing generally larger increases across all of DOE’s applied R&D programs, including initial funding for an advanced nuclear reactor demonstration program.

The leaders of the House Science Committee have introduced competing reauthorization bills for the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy. The Democratic majority’s bill calls for the agency’s budget to increase from its current level of $366 million to $1 billion over five years, while the Republican-backed bill recommends more moderate growth.

The House Science Committee has advanced three bills out of subcommittee that would set policy for the Department of Energy’s solar, wind, and fossil energy R&D programs. The legislation recommends funding increases — particularly for carbon capture, storage, utilization, and removal — and outlines a broad portfolio encompassing the development, deployment, and operation of energy systems.

As Congress seeks to reinvigorate the U.S. nuclear sector with new legislative backing for advanced reactor development, members are also making a renewed push to solve the nuclear waste stalemate.

Efforts in the Senate to promote technology innovation as a way to combat climate change are beginning to progress. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has renewed his push to “double energy research funding,” while the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has begun to develop legislation to promote technology development and commercialization.

President Trump’s fiscal year 2020 budget request for the Department of Energy includes a $2 billion cut to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and smaller but still sizeable cuts to nuclear and fossil energy R&D programs. The request proposes increases for electric grid resilience programs that would support new R&D efforts.

Energy R&D has emerged as a focal point for bipartisan collaboration in the new Congress. At recent hearings, lawmakers heard testimony in favor of large spending increases spread across a variety of technologies.