Energy concerns played a prominent role in national debates last week, with the appropriations committees in both congressional chambers approving wildly different versions of funding bills for fiscal year 2013 energy and water development and leadership in both houses appointing conferees to a surface transportation conference committee that is certain to spend a significant amount of time debating the Keystone XL pipeline, among other energy issues.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development approved a $33.4 billion energy and water spending bill for fiscal year 2013 April 24. The draft legislation, which was approved without objection, would allocate $27.1 billion for the Department of Energy, about $800 million less than the House version of the bill. The measure includes nearly $2 billion for the agency’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, a $160 million increase from current levels. Of that, $95 million would go to wind energy programs, including $37 million for offshore wind power; $312 million, or $37 million more that in fiscal year 2012, would go to the Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy. The funding measure includes $793 million for the agency’s Office of Nuclear Energy, and would authorize the agency to develop a pilot program to license, construct, and operate one or more consolidated facilities to provide interim storage for spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste, but provides no funding for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. Additionally, the draft text includes $4.9 billion for the agency’s Office of Science. The full Senate Appropriations Committee approved, 28-1, the legislation April 26.

On April 25, the House Appropriations Committee approved along party lines its allocations for twelve annual spending bills, setting the stage for the panel to begin moving more of the measures to mark up and to the House floor in May. The adopted allocations are significantly below those called for in the Budget Control Act, last summer’s budget agreement between President Obama and congressional leaders, already making difficult the path toward agreement on individual bills. At the same time, the committee reported the annual spending bill for Energy and Water programs, and the legislation is expected to be on the House floor the week of May 7. The House’s $32.1 billion version of the legislation also includes a policy rider that would bar the Army Corps of Engineers from implementing Clean Water Act guidance that clarifies which domestic waters fall under federal protection as well as an amendment from Congressman Rodney Alexander (R-LA) that would prohibit the Department of Energy from finalizing energy efficiency standards for federal buildings. The measure allocated $1.4 billion for the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy; currently the office is funded at $1.8 billion. The House measure, which, like the Senate version, does not include funding for the agency’s loan guarantee program, provides $25 million to support development of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, which was halted in January 2010.

During an April 26 House Ways and Means Select Revenue Measures Subcommittee tax extenders hearing, most committee members agreed in saying that the production tax credit will reduce energy costs and help reduce the country’s dependency of foreign energy, while some contended that the program creates winners and losers in the market. As the credit nears its end of the year expiration, PTC supporters are looking for ways to continue to support the wind industry via the credit, including a short-term extension that could be followed by a multiyear phaseout. The subcommittee is examining more than 60 tax extenders programs in advanced of legislation expected later this year to extend expired and expiring tax credits and deductions; the work done at the hearing was aimed in part at aiding tax writers’ efforts with fundamental tax reform.

The House and Senate appointed conferees last week as efforts begin to negotiate a long-term reauthorization of federal surface transportation programs. Senate leadership appointed 14 conferees, eight Democrats and six Republicans, April 24, and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) appointed 33 conferees, 20 Republicans and 13 Democrats, the following day. The Highway Bill conferees will convene May 8 for their first formal meeting. Moving forward, conferees will have a number of hurdles to overcome, in addition to a significant spending gap between the two-year $109 billion Senate version and the 90-day House extension, the House bill includes language approving the Keystone XL pipeline and measures that would preempt the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating coal ash. The conference committee will be under pressure to produce a conference report that can pass both chambers and reach the President’s desk before current authorization expires at the end of June.  

Though Congress will be in recess this week, when the Senate returns May 7, in addition to continued consideration of funding measures, Senate Democrats plan immediately to bring student loan legislation to the floor as the first order of business, and then may move on to consideration of a small business tax bill, potentially pushing appropriations debate until late May or even June.