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Congress pushes back on Trump's proposed EPA, energy research cuts in omnibus

Congress' new omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2018 rebuffed many of the Trump administration's calls to eliminate or cut funding for U.S. Department of Energy research programs and sharply reduce funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018, released late March 21, would provide $12.9 billion for the DOE's energy programs, up by $1.6 billion from the 2017 enacted level, according to a summary from the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Appropriations.

Within that area, the bill called for $2.3 billion for the DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, up from about $2.0 billion in fiscal year 2017 and well above President Donald Trump's request of $636 million. In his more recent budget proposal for fiscal year 2019, Trump raised his request for that office to $696 million.

The DOE's fossil energy research and development efforts would receive $727 million, an increase of $59 million from 2017 enacted levels, while the nuclear energy research budget would go up by $188 million to $1.2 billion. The DOE's Office of Science, which includes the national laboratories, would receive a record-high $6.26 billion, rising $868 million above 2017 levels.

"Supporting government-sponsored research at our 17 national laboratories is one of the most important investments our country can make to encourage innovation, help our free enterprise system create good-paying jobs, and ensure American competitiveness in a global economy," said U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee.

The spending bill would also increase funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, known as ARPA-E, to $353.3 million from $306 million in fiscal year 2017. Trump called to eliminate the program in both his fiscal 2018 and 2019 budget requests. In addition, the legislation would make $33 million in appropriations available for the DOE's Title 17 loan guarantee program for innovative energy technologies, another program Trump has sought to defund.

The bill excluded the $120 million Trump requested to restart licensing on the Yucca Mountain long-term nuclear waste storage repository in Nevada.

Lawmakers also rejected Trump's proposal to slash EPA funding. The omnibus would hold EPA's budget steady at about $8.1 billion, compared with the White House's requests of $5.7 billion for fiscal year 2018 and $6.1 billion for 2019. The legislation also directs the EPA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the DOE to recognize biomass as a carbon-neutral energy source.

Despite holding the EPA's total budget steady, the omnibus legislation would reduce money for the agency's regulatory programs by $23.5 million from current levels. The House Appropriations Committee also noted the agency's staffing levels have fallen by 650 positions in the last year to 14,172.

Despite reducing money for EPA regulatory programs, the bill would increase funding for Superfund site cleanups, water infrastructure projects, and the clean water and drinking water state revolving loan fund.

The legislation would provide $13.1 billion for the U.S. Department of the Interior, $863.3 million above the 2017 enacted level and $2.5 billion above Trump's request. Interior's Bureau of Land Management, which oversees leasing of federal lands for energy production, would get $1.3 billion, an increase of $80 million from fiscal year 2017. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management would be funded at $114.2 million, in line with the administration's request and up by $39.6 million from 2017 enacted levels. The BOEM appropriations do not include collection of rental receipts and other cost recovery fees.

Prior to the bill's release, the White House on March 21 indicated support for the funding deal. Congress must pass a spending package by March 23 to avoid another government shutdown. The House passed the omnibus bill the afternoon of March 22, sending the proposal to the U.S. Senate.