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GOP budget fight may drag on energy, water funding

A U.S.House subcommittee will mark up a fiscal-year 2017 energy and water appropriationsbill for the federal government on April 13 as Republican lawmakers clash on overallfunding levels for the federal government.

The HouseAppropriations Committee's Energy and Water Subcommittee released a notice of themarkup April 8. The bill will not be available until shortly before the markup,which starts at 1:30 p.m. ET on April 13.

The committeeis expected to set funding levels for energy and water that are in line with thebudget limit set by former House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, shortly before hestepped down in October2015. But more fiscally conservative GOP House members were unhappy with Boehner'sbudget agreement, which eased funding limits for the federal government. And PresidentBarack Obama's proposed discretionary spending for fiscal year 2017 is higher thanwhat Congress is expected to approve.

Aggregatespending levels from Congress, including for water and energy, "will almostcertainly be lower than what the president asked for," said Molly Reynolds,a governance studies fellow at the Brookings Institution.

The bulkof energy and water funding goes to the U.S. Department of Energy. The presidentproposed $32.5 billionfor the DOE in fiscal year 2017, a 10% increase from prior-year enacted levels.In addition to broader budget concerns, many Republican lawmakers were with the proposal on policygrounds, saying it favored investment in renewables at the expense of coal and otherfossil fuels in an effort to support the administration's climate policy goals.Funds for clean energy research and development would rise 21% to $5.9 billion underObama's proposal, in large part to support a multinational pact between the U.S. and other countries toboost development of clean energy technologies. DOE's Fossil Energy Research andDevelopment program would get a comparatively modest $600 million for fiscal year2017.

Interior'sbudget proposal could also come under GOP fire. The agency is working on royaltyand leasing reforms forthe coal sector that have riled Republicans, including a temporary on new coal leases on federallands pending an environmental review.

But theGOP divisions over spending limits mean that Congress may not have a regular budgetprocess that allows for consideration of separate appropriations bills for fiscalyear 2017, which runs October 2016-September 2017. If the House is unable to passa budget resolution, a strong chance exists that Congress will pass a short-termcontinuing resolution to fund the government at current levels or do another full-yearomnibus in September, Reynolds said.