House overwhelmingly approves FY '05 Energy, Water Development bill

A furious and emotional debate over the California energy market meltdown of 2000-2001 played a starring role in today's House deliberations on the $28 billion FY '05 Energy and Water Development appropriations bill before the chamber approved the spending measure on a 370-16 vote.

WASHINGTON D.C., June 25, 2004 (Greenwire) -- A furious and emotional debate over the California energy market meltdown of 2000-2001 played a starring role in today's House deliberations on the $28 billion FY '05 Energy and Water Development appropriations bill before the chamber approved the spending measure on a 370-16 vote.

Missing from the five-hour debate, however, was an anticipated showdown on funding for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository as lawmakers late last night decided against offering H.R. 3981. The legislation, passed by the Energy and Commerce Committee this week, would steer the nuclear industry's contributions to the Nuclear Waste Trust Fund more directly to the Energy Department's repository project, located under a desert mountain ridge 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The controversial nature of the repository funding proposal -- including its potential effects on the upcoming congressional and presidential elections in Nevada, considered a "swing" state where a majority of voters oppose the repository -- contributed to the decision late last night not to try to attach it as a floor amendment to the Energy and Water Development appropriations bill.

The appropriations measure, H.R. 4614, funds Energy Department, Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation projects for the coming fiscal year. DOE gets a total of $22.48 billion, an increase of $511 million over FY '04, while the Army Corps of Engineers gets roughly $4.9 billion, $252 million more than FY '04 and $712 million above President Bush's FY '05 request. The Interior Department's Bureau of Reclamation gets $1 billion, $46 million above the amount sought by the president.

Today's debate on the California energy market issue carried over from efforts by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) last night to get the Rules Committee to approve debate on an amendment requiring the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to issue the full $9 billion refund of overcharges by Enron, Reliant and other energy companies during the market problems. FERC insists that under procedures set out in the Federal Power Act, it only will be able to refund about $3 billion of those overcharges.

The Rules Committee rejected the effort. But Eshoo and other Western Democrats, angered at the recent release of new evidence showing traders were stealing electricity from the region in an effort to drive prices up during the market disaster, got approval from Rep. David Hobson (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, for a scaled-back amendment. The amendment, passed on a voice vote, allows the states to obtain documents related to the Enron and other power company lawsuits.

On other issues in the debate, the House:

* Rejected an amendment by Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that would have taken $30 million from the Advanced Simulation and Computing Program in the Weapons Activities budget to increase funding for renewable energy programs. The vote failed, 150-241.

* Rejected an amendment by Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) regarding funding for nonproliferation activities at the national laboratories. The vote failed, 153-244.

* Rejected an amendment by Rep. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) to provide for a transfer of $30 million between NNSA and the nonproliferation account. The vote failed, 151-235.

* Rejected an amendment by Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.) to reduce the discretionary funds in the bill by an across-the-board 1 percent. The vote failed, 68-319.

Funding breakdown

The Energy and Water appropriations bill requires the corps to begin preparing five-year budget plans and focuses on providing enough funds so the corps can clear up its backlog of projects and complete new ones on time.

For the Bureau of Reclamation, the bill provides $36 million above the FY '04 level and $46 million over the budget request. The California Bay-Delta Restoration Program is not funded, pending enactment of authorizing legislation. However, funding for several authorized components of the program is included.

The Energy Department receives $22.48 billion in the bill, an increase of $511 million over FY '04. As with the corps, DOE would be required to prepare five-year budget plans, first for individual programs and then an integrated plan for the entire department, including each DOE laboratory.

Among individual DOE programs, renewable energy programs get $343 million, $31.6 million below the budget request and $1 million above FY '04. The Office of Electricity Transmission and Distribution is funded at $75.4 million, $15.5 million below the budget request and $6.5 million below FY '04.

Nuclear energy programs are funded at $463 million, an increase of $51.2 million over the budget request and $53.2 million above FY '04. The bill funds Idaho National Laboratory infrastructure at $123 million, a $15 million increase over the budget request and $47 million over FY '04. The bill also includes $68 million for the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative, an increase of $21.7 million over the budget request.

DOE science programs are funded at $3.6 billion, an increase of $168.2 million over the budget request and $168.6 million above FY '04.

The department's nondefense environmental management programs get the requested amount of $943 million, while defense environmental management activities are funded at $6.9 billion, $301 million more than FY '04 and $65 million less than the budget request. The bill does not provide the $350 million requested for the administration's proposed high-level waste program for Waste Incident to Reprocessing, which is on hold pending court review.

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