Energy Funding Notes: In Senate, More Good News for Office of Science, ARPA-E

The recent Senate bill would provide both agencies with all-time funding highs amid continuing rejection of White House R&D budgets.

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s Energy & Water Development spending bill, approved last week on a 30-1 vote, continues Congressional pushback against the sharp Department of Energy (DOE) R&D cuts recommended by the White House, with Senate report language referring to several of these cuts or eliminations as “short-sighted.” A brief summary of the Senate spending bill follows; see the AAAS appropriations dashboard for additional details and comparisons.

Office of Science. Basic research programs fare particularly well in the bill, as they did in the House version adopted in mid-May. The Office of Science, DOE’s basic research arm, would receive $6.7 billion in FY 2019, good for a 6.2 percent or $390 million increase above FY 2018. The figure is $1.3 billion above the White House request and would represent an all-time funding high if ultimately adopted. Most programs would receive at least moderate increases:

  • The biggest winner is Advanced Scientific Computing Research with a 21 percent increase above FY 2018. This includes a 13.5 percent increase for the exascale computing initiative, as well as sizable increases for the Leadership Computing Facilities at Argonne and Oak Ridge and the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) at Berkeley. These figures are similar to those in the House bill, but even more generous.
  • High Energy Physics (HEP) is also a winner in the Senate bill, but mostly due to a major increase for the Long Baseline Neutrino/Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment. That project would rise to $145 million, compared to $95 million in FY 2018 (though House appropriators would go even further, providing $175 million). Even so, HEP research program funding would increase by 4.2 percent. Funding would be increased for PIP II (Fermilab), and $10 million is also provided for FACET II (SLAC).
  • Nuclear Physics research, operations, and maintenance would be increased by 8.2 percent or $48.2 million above FY 2018, and $110 million above the White House request. This includes a 15 percent increase for the Stable Isotope Production Facility. The GRETA project would receive $6.6 million, matching the House.
  • Basic Energy Sciences user facilities would receive varying increases, as would construction or upgrade projects for the Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge, the Advanced Light Source at Berkeley, and others. The Senate bill would provide continuing funding, as requested, for the energy storage and artificial photosynthesis innovation hubs and the Energy Frontier Research Centers. Again, these figures are similar to, but more generous than, those in the House bill.
  • Biological and Environmental Research funding includes increases of around 4 percent for the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory at Pacific Northwest Lab and the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement facility. The Senate bill also includes $10 million for establishment of a national microbiome database, which was also encouraged in the House bill.
  • The exception to these increases is the Fusion Energy Sciences program. While the international fusion project ITER would be held flat at $122 million in the Senate bill, domestic research activities would be reduced by $107 million or 26 percent below FY 2018 levels.

Energy Technology Programs. Compared to DOE’s basic science activities, the Senate approach to DOE’s technology R&D programs is much more targeted. Overall funding for fossil, nuclear, and renewable energy and efficiency R&D would be held generally flat, though there would be with a few notable increases (and some decreases). This contrasts with the House approach, which was more favorable to fossil and nuclear energy, though appropriators in both chambers clearly resisted White House-proposed cuts.

  • As in the House bill, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) was protected from White House-sought elimination in the Senate bill. However, unlike the House bill, Senate appropriators would grant ARPA-E a funding increase. The agency would receive $375 million in the Senate bill, a 6.1 percent increase and an all-time high.
  • Many programs and projects within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would remain flat or see limited change in the Senate bill, though wind energy R&D would be reduced by 13 percent. Senate appropriators adopted sizable increases for materials research for vehicles, solar manufacturing innovation programs, and R&D for residential and commercial building efficiency. The Critical Materials Hub and the Energy-Water Desalination Hub were both protected from elimination. Senate appropriators also protected DOE’s four manufacturing innovation institutes from termination, and directed DOE to move forward in establishing the fifth and sixth such institutes.
  • On the Fossil Energy R&D front, the Senate bill includes only very modest increases for most advanced coal and carbon capture R&D programs. It does, however, include an 18 percent increase to $55 million total for carbon storage infrastructure, including continuation of the CarbonSAFE and Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership programs. The Senate bill also includes $30 million for design study of two commercial-scale carbon capture projects, but leaves out funding for a pair of transformational coal technology pilots. This funding was initiated in last year’s omnibus and would be continued in this year’s House bill.
  • While the Office of Nuclear Energy would receive flat funding in the House bill, R&D programs would receive a $57 million increase, offset by a decrease for Idaho Lab operations and infrastructure. The Senate bill includes a sizable 27 percent increase above FY 2018 levels for reactor concepts RD&D, as well as a modest increase for fuel cycle R&D programs. Appropriators also protected the nuclear modeling and simulation innovation hub from elimination.
Cover Photo Credit: Oak Ridge LCF