House Republicans confronted Environmental Protection Agency overreach Wednesday by passing a $37.4 billion fiscal 2017 energy spending bill that targets the agency's far-reaching Waters of the United States rule, while countering the administration's cuts to fossil fuel funding.
"This is a responsible bill, one that corrects a number of budget gimmicks used by the administration to get around discretionary budget caps," said Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on energy and water before leading a vote to send the bill to the full committee for review.
The bill includes a number of riders that seek to hobble the EPA's contentious rule, which has been called out by the GOP for placing farmers and ranchers under the agency's Clean Water Act enforcement authority by designating places such as ditches, gullies and holes as waterways — a definition change that has led to a stay of the regulation by federal judges.
The riders outlined in the bill would:
- Prohibit any changes to federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act.
- Prohibit any changes to the definition of "fill material" and "discharge of fill material" for the purposes of the Clean Water Act.
- Restrict the application of the Clean Water Act in certain agricultural areas, including farm ponds and irrigation ditches.
The bill was passed unanimously, but Democrats on the panel protested. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, said the "riders further complicate an already difficult process and I strongly object." New York Democrat Nita Lowey seconded the objection, saying "the inclusion of misguided, dangerous policy riders is disappointing at best" and a "direct affront to the regular order we all want" at worst.
Kaptur, however, approved of the increased funding for nuclear weapons programs at the Department of Energy, saying they provide for the defense of the nation. The bill bulks up nuclear weapons spending by almost $500 million from fiscal 2016 levels to $9.3 billion for weapons activities.
"With ever-changing global threats, it is vital we keep the country at the very pinnacle of nuclear security preparedness," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky. "This bill prioritizes funding to ensure that our stockpile is modern, secure and ready."
Simpson said the bill increases spending for fossil fuels and nuclear energy that was cut in the president's budget request in favor of solar and wind.
The spending bill sets Energy Department funding for energy programs at $11.1 billion, which is an increase of $56 million above fiscal 2016's enacted level but $1.3 billion below the president's request.
"Within this total, the bill prioritizes and increases funding for energy programs that encourage U.S. economic competitiveness and that help advance the nation's goal of an 'all-of-the-above' solution to energy independence," a committee statement reads.
That translates to $645 million in funding for research and development to advance coal, natural gas and oil, as well as other fossil fuels, which will help keep down costs for consumers and develop the nation's natural resources, the committee says. The funding amount is $13 million above 2016 levels.
Nuclear energy activities also received a $25 million boost from last year's enacted budget to land at a whopping $1.01 billion. It also provides money for the Energy Department to continue work on the nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain in Nev., which the administration tried to kill in the president's first term.
Meanwhile, renewable energy got a significant haircut.
"Renewable energy programs, which have already received significant investments in recent years, are cut by $248 million compared to fiscal year 2016 and $1.07 billion compared to the president's budget request," the committee said.
"We cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand on climate change. And yet, the energy efficiency and renewable energy account would be funded at $1.825 billion, $248 million below the president's request," Lowey said.