House appropriators advanced a $37 billion fiscal 2018 energy and water spending bill Wednesday, despite Democratic attempts to remove Environmental Protection Agency policy riders and restore a gutted energy research program.
The Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill totals $37.5 billion, which is $203 million below fiscal 2017 appropriations but $3.2 billion above the cuts that President Trump proposed in his budget request.
The full House Appropriations Committee approved the measure by voice vote. It now goes to full chamber for a vote before heading to the Senate.
Democrats used the majority of the time during the several hours of markup to include amendments that would reverse key spending cuts, including the decision to zero out funding for the Advanced Research Project Agency on Energy, or ARPA-E, which was included in Trump's budget request.
The ARPA-E program targets advanced energy technologies that have the potential to make big advancements and leapfrog research and development on any number of energy resources. It has been seen as a key instrument in advancing new forms of renewable energy as well as conventional forms of energy.
An amendment introduced by Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., sought to restore the ARPA-E program, but the measure was voted down 30-22.
Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, chairman of the Appropriations Committee's energy panel, said he understands lawmakers' concerns about ARPA-E, but "tough choices" had to be made.
"I certainly understand the concern that members have on the elimination of ARPA-E," Simpson said. "I would tell you that doesn't eliminate any ongoing projects," he added, explaining that the current funding will continue, but the fiscal 2018 bill would eliminate any new funding.
"This is one of the difficult choices that had to be made in this bill," Simpson added. "I happen to like ARPA-E, but our nation's defense and infrastructure are the top priorities of this bill, and tough choices needed to be made."
Simpson also warned the Energy Department that even though the full committee report eliminates the program, it should not take the actions as final. "This is a process," and things can change between now and when the bill moves to the House floor and then the Senate, he said.
Democrats also tried to remove an EPA policy rider that targeted the Waters of the United States rule, with an amendment introduced by Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, and supported by Nita Lowey of New York, the top Democrat on the full committee.
The amendment was voted down 32-20 along party lines. Simpson said the riders have been offered in previous spending bills with a majority of support. But Democrats argued that the fiscal 2018 rider would impose deeper restrictions on the agency's authority under the Clean Water Act.
The Waters of the United States rule expanded the EPA's jurisdiction over water resources by defining waterways to include everything from tributaries to watering holes and ditches. It would expand EPA's enforcement authority over private landowners, farmers and ranchers and would make it harder for energy and other forms of development.
Trump issued an executive order to repeal the regulation, but the Republican-led Congress wants to codify restrictions on the rule through the spending bill.