Though perhaps less captivating than the political scene portrayed on shows like House of Cards, appropriations for FY2016 is in full swing on Capitol Hill. In the House, several key appropriations bills have passed the House, including Commerce, Justice, Science; Defense; Energy and Water Development and Transportation, Housing Urban Development. In an unusual turn, the Agriculture appropriations bill – usually one of the first bills to pass out of subcommittee -- is still awaiting markup by the lower chamber. In the Senate, most bills have passed out of subcommittee and are awaiting approval from by the full committee. With Congress in recess until after the July 4 holiday, no further action will be taken until July – with appropriators hoping to have a full budget finished by the August recess.
Appropriations have become a warzone in recent years for environmental measures – seeking cuts to the federal government’s ability to conduct programs related to climate change or renewable energy, including climate change monitoring, lowering greenhouse gas emissions, energy efficiency measures and renewable energy technologies. In the past, Republicans have utilized appropriations as a means to challenge the President’s agenda on climate. Below is a summary of some of the 2016 House appropriations bills relating to energy and environment.
Interior, Environment and Related Agencies (H.R. 2822)
The Interior & Environment appropriations bill provides $30.17 billion in base funding for the Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, Forest Service, and other related agencies, $3 billion less than the President requested and a quarter billion less than was enacted in last year’s budget. The bill significantly cuts environmental programs, with EPA being the primary target, slashing EPA funding by $718 million—or nine percent—compared to 2015 enacted levels. It also included a flurry of policy riders that may force President Obama to veto the bill. The appropriation did increase funding for certain Native American programs as well as wildfire prevention.
The most aggressive of the bill’s riders are those that would defund the EPA’s ability to implement its landmark new policies, the Clean Power Plan and the Clean Water Rule, which many Republicans have deemed regulatory overreach. According to subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert (R-CA), “This administration’s appetite for new regulations and disregard for Congress has left us little choice but to block the president’s overzealous regulatory agenda in this bill.” The minority had a different view of the bill. “We are going backwards and the consequences will be felt in communities all across the country … as it stands now, the numbers and the riders in this Interior and Environment bill are not workable or sustainable.” commented Ranking Member Betty McCollum (D-MN). Riders on the bill include:
- Preventing certain species (including sage grouse) from being listed under the Endangered Species Act.
- Blocking funding for a fracking regulation rule by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
- Prohibits the Fish and Wildlife Service from imposing policies on the illegal ivory trade.
- Cuts to the overall U.S. Forest Service budget while wildfire funding is increased.
Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies (H. R. 2028)
The House Energy & Water appropriations bill also contains significant challenges to the White House environmental agenda. It incorporates numerous provisions that would restrict the application of the Clean Water Act. Department of Energy funding for energy programs is set at $10.3 billion – an increase of $64 million above FY2015 enacted levels and $1.3 billion lower than the President’s request.
Research and development to advance coal, natural gas, oil, and other fossil energy technologies, are funded at $605 million – an increase of $34 million above the fiscal year 2015 enacted level. Conversely, renewable energy programs receive a $279 million cut from FY2015 levels, to $1.7 billion. Riders on the bill include:
- Rep. Gosar (R-AZ) introduced an amendment, which passed 224 – 184, prohibiting using funds for DOE’s Climate Model Development and Validation program.
- Rep. Stivers (R-OH) introduced an amendment, which passed on a voice vote, prohibiting funds in the bill from being used to support the Cape Wind Energy Project.
- Rep. Rothfus (R-PA) introduced an amendment, which passed 232 – 172, prohibiting DOE from using the “Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Perspective on Exporting Liquefied Natural Gas from the United States” report in making determinations for liquefied natural gas exports.
- Rep. Blackburn (R-TN) introduced an amendment, which was adopted on a voice vote, prohibiting the DOE from enforcing stricter efficiency standards on residential gas furnaces.
- Rep. Abraham (R-LA) introduced an amendment which was adopted on a voice vote prohibiting funds in the bill to implement Executive Order 13690 -- the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard.
Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies
In discretionary spending, the House Agriculture bill allocates $20.65 billion, $175 million below the 2015 enacted level and $1.1 billion less than the President's request. Conservation initiatives took a hit in the appropriation, as the subcommittee’s draft cut funding for conservation operations by $10 million relative to last year’s proposal.
Additionally, the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act, which provides funding to the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to purchase floodplain easements in areas with recurring floods, was cut by $69 million relative to mandatory levels for FY2016. Within the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act, the Watershed Rehabilitation Program, which assists communities with infrastructure improvements to aging dams, received only $6 million as opposed to the farm bill’s $85 million for FY2016.
As is often the case with the agriculture bill, however, the most controversial budget decisions came in the form of cuts to mandatory spending, or CHIMPS. Overall, CHIMPS in the House cut the Farm Bill’s Energy Title by 47 percent. The two largest CHIMPs are:
- Rural Energy for America Program (REAP, Sec. 9007), a popular program which provides funding for on-farm and rural renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. Mandatory funding was cut by 30 percent relative to the farm bill, to $35 million from $50 million.
- Biomass Crop Assistance Program (Sec. 9010): provides assistance to landowners to produce biomass feedstocks. For FY2016, the mandatory funding was cut by 52 percent, to $12 million from $25 million.
According to Roger Johnson, President of the National Farmers Union (NFU), these cuts are short-sighted. “These mandatory spending levels were set through painstaking bipartisan collaborations during the extended debates over the 2014 Farm Bill,” stated Johnson. “Family farmers are the first to suffer the negative impacts of climate change … cutting mandatory spending for energy programs denies us the policy support we need in order to do our part.”
House Ag Cuts, Farmenergy.org
Department of Defense (H.R. 2685)
While the Pentagon sees climate change as an immediate threat to national security, there were several riders in the House Department of Defense (DoD) appropriations bill. The bill contains a provision that “none of the funds made available by this Act may be used to enforce section 526 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.” Section 526 prohibits federal agencies from employing fuels with higher lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than conventional petroleum sources. The DoD has faced such attempts against section 526 before, but it has never been repealed.
Additionally, Rep. Rep. McClintock (R-CA) introduced an amendment which prohibits funding to comply with renewable energy requirements. The amendment was adopted by voice vote.
Commerce, Justice and Science (H.R. 2578)
Similar to the FY2015 House appropriations bill, the House appropriations process seeks to block funding for climate change agreements. Rep. Perry (R-PA) introduced an amendment which prohibits funds to be used for several climate change agreements and studies, including the National Climate Assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, the United Nation's Agenda 21, and the Social Cost of Carbon.
Now that the House has passed their appropriations bills, much of the focus shifts to the Senate, which is drafting and passing through committee its own appropriations bills. The Senate and House must reconcile their bills before sending them to the President. Still, given the quantity and boldness of challenges being put forth in this year’s Congressional appropriations, the threat of a White House veto looms. Whether or not significant riders reversing environmental legislation will make it into the final budget remains uncertain. While an omnibus spending bill overhauled the 2015 appropriations process, given the lead-up to the 2016 Presidential nominations and elections, Congress may elect to simply pass a continuing resolution, which would keep FY2016 funding at the same levels as set in last year’s omnibus spending package.
For additional information see:
Appropriations 101, Committee For A Responsible Budget
The Congressional Appropriations Process: An Introduction, Congressional Research Services