Knoxville News Sentinel: Senate subcommittee advances proposed DOE budget; proposal good for Oak Ridge
Posted on July 21, 2017
The Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee voted 16 to 1 to advance a mark-up budget for the Department of Energy Tuesday.
The president and the U.S. House of Representatives released their energy budget proposals earlier this summer. The Senate's budget will be the last puzzle piece before Congress gets together to discuss what the Department of Energy's 2018 budget will look like.
"Reaching an agreement was not easy," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who chairs the subcommittee. He and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., worked closely on the proposed budget. Under the budget control spending caps, Congress has less money to appropriate than last year.
The finalized budget will likely be some combination of the Senate and House proposals. Legislators have made it no secret that they thought President Trump's proposed energy budget was impractical.
Had it been approved, it would have cut Office of Science funding by 17 percent, costing the Oak Ridge National Laboratory as many as 1,600 jobs. The bill approved by the House last week would keep Office of Science spending at the current amount, just under $5.4 billion.
Both the President's and the House's proposed budgets would eliminate ARPA-E, a program that funds high-risk, high-impact research projects, 11 of which ORNL has a stake in.
In contrast, the subcommittee's bill would provide a record $5.5 billion to the Office of Science and a record $330 million to ARPA-E.
"We started with an unrealistic budget proposal from the president. The Department of Energy's budget request for for Fiscal Year 2018 was only $28 billion, a decrease of about $2.9 billion, 10 percent below what Congress provided last year," Alexander said.
More for Oak Ridge
In addition to the bumps for ARPA-E and the Office of Science, the budget would also bolster nuclear energy funding. It allocates $40 million to support existing nuclear reactors, $92 million toward advanced reactors, and $24 million for ORNL's Center for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors.
Congress and the Trump administration seem to agree that supercomputing should remain a national priority.
Trump's budget requested $508 million toward supercomputing, aimed at delivering the first exascale machine by 2021. The subcommittee bill allocates $381 million for the endeavor, and $150 million for ORNL's Leadership Computing Facility.
Composite manufacturing at ORNL's Manufacturing Demonstration Facility and Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI) would get $20 million and and $14 million of the budget, respectively.
About $518 million of the subcommittee's total $6.6 billion allocation toward Cold War-era site cleanup would fund cleanup projects at the East Tennessee Technology Park, Y-12 National Security Complex and ORNL.
Both the House and the Senate Subcomittee's bills continue to fund the Appalachian Regional Commission, which has provided money for the proposed Oak Ridge Regional Airport. The president's budget request would have eliminated the commission.
Feinstein raised concerns over the balance of appropriations in the budget, though still she ultimately supported advancing the legislation.
Though many Oak Ridge programs fare well in the proposal, the non-defense side still faces a decrease of $415 million, including an 8 percent cut in applied energy programs. The budget allocates significantly more resources toward National Nuclear Security Administration defense activities than for research and development.
NNSA would receive $13.7 billion, including $1.7 billion for nuclear stockpile life extension programs.
"I'm concerned that this bill continues a pattern of more money for weapons, and lower or flat funding for everything else," Feinstein said.
She spoke out against allocating funds for a new nuclear warhead called a long-range standoff weapon. According to Feinstein, the cruise missile program will cost $400 million in the current budget.
"All for a weapon I believe we don't need and can't afford," she said. "(The $400 million) is just a down payment on the $8.6 billion this warhead alone will eventually cost us."
Feinstein estimates the missiles developed to carry the warheads would cost at least another $10 billion from the Defense Department.
In addition to cuts to applied energy programs, the subcommittee budget zeroes out the Energy Department's loan program, which funds energy and vehicle research projects.
Feinstein said the program generally results in net positive applications. She said there are at least 50 loan applications at the Department of Energy now that have cost some prospective borrowers millions of dollars to apply for.
The budget proposal also eliminates the United States' funding contribution to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER). The project will be the world's largest magnetic confinement plasma physics experiment, aimed at creating a reactor that produces much more energy than it uses.
This is not the first time the Senate has proposed leaving the program, which is farbehind schedule. The House however has favored the project.
The United States is one of seven countries contributing to ITER. The European Union is footing the bill for nearly half of it. The United States and the other five countries in the agreement each fund about nine percent of the project.
If the United States does leave the program as proposed in the subcommittee budget, it could save $50 million.