Facing down both funding and deficit reduction deadlines as well as the Thanksgiving holiday, the executive and legislative branches of government continued to also address several energy issues last week.
The House and Senate approved a three-bill package of appropriations bills November 18 that also carried a new stopgap funding measure for the federal government, and President Obama signed it the same day. The legislation enacts three regular appropriations bills – Agriculture, Commerce-Science-Justice, and Transportation and Housing and Urban Development – and provides temporary funding for the other nine bills that remain to be finished. The House approved the legislation on a vote of 292-121 and shortly thereafter, the Senate passed the bill, 70-30. The two chambers afforded themselves until December 16 to move forward with the remaining nine bills, and, despite attempts to move a series of minibuses, it is expected that all nine funding measures will be rolled into one near-omnibus spending package that moves before the end of the year.
Despite its reinsertion in the Senate version of H.R. 2112, the House-Senate conference committee eliminated $161.5 million in funding for a new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climate service last week, but the conference report did retain $2 billion for carbon capture and storage projects, as included in the Senate version of the bill.
Senate debate on the energy and water bill (H.R. 2354) was scheduled for last week, but is now likely to be delayed until after Thanksgiving. Senators Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), cosponsors of the fiscal 2012 energy and water appropriations bill are having difficulty reaching an agreement on the administration’s request to fund research on small modular nuclear reactors. Senator Feinstein does not believe that a new government-funded program for nuclear energy research should be created until there is a solution to the nuclear waste issue, but Senator Alexander is a strong supporter of the $67 million request and the modular concept as a whole. The House bill, which passed July 15, included the administration’s request. Amendments to the bill continue to stack up, with plans from Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) to offer one that would place restrictions on the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program for clean energy technologies, another from Senator Dan Coats (R-IN) that would require a Department of Energy Inspector General to investigate loan commitments made under the advanced technology vehicles manufacturing program. The $31.6 billion energy and water bill for fiscal year 2012 is down $57 million, less than one percent, below last year’s enacted levels, and down nearly $3 billion, or 9.4 percent, below the president’s request.
Adding to issues the Senate hopes to address before the end of the year, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) outlined a heavy agenda last week, adding the Department of Defense authorization bill to an already full to-do list of appropriations bills, tax measures, and deficit reduction. Senator Reid expects his colleagues will have longer work weeks in December than usual.
As the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction nears the November 23 deadline to identify $1.2 trillion in savings, committee co-leader Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) said November 18 that they will report something as soon as they can, but a mood of pessimism has settled over the supercommittee. Congressman Xavier Becerra (D-CA) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) remain hopeful that the group can reach an agreement in time, and, while also noting the need for harsh cuts across the board, Becerra pointed late last week to renewable energy as a sector worthy of federal support. Should the supercommittee not be able to identify the necessary reductions, and with Democrats rejecting a last ditch Republican effort Friday, that appears increasingly likely, automatic cuts to both military and domestic spending will occur - though not without opposition. Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ) told reporters that in the event no deal is struck, he and fellow Congressional Republicans are hopeful Congress could work to enact the $1.2 trillion in cuts with defense being spared.