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House Energy Funding: Fossil and Nuclear Favored over Renewables, Climate, Computing

BILL: FY 2016 Energy and Water Appropriations
H.R. 2808
House Status: Through committee April 22 | Senate Status: Not yet introduced

What Happened? The House Appropriations Committee marked up and approved the Energy and Water (E&W) bill April 22 on a voice vote, the first bill to move in the FY 2016 appropriations cycle. The President’s request sought major boosts for select (but not all) low-carbon technology programs, and in computer science. The committee mostly refuted these requests, opting for extra funding for fossil and nuclear energy, while protecting fusion energy and cutting climate research.

What Gained: A few Office of Science programs received increases near or above the rate of inflation from FY 2015 (Nuclear Physics, High-Energy Physics, and Basic Energy Sciences), though none would rise by as much as the President had sought, as shown at right. The Energy Frontier Research Centers program was granted $97.8 million, instead of the $100 million sought. Funding for light source operation and construction was trimmed. High-Energy Physics research was trimmed overall from FY 2015, with program gains centered on construction.

While the Fusion Energy program was flat-funded from FY 2015 levels, it also managed to avoid the 10.2 percent reduction proposed by the Administration, including a 15 percent cut to the domestic research program. Contributions to ITER, the international fusion energy project, would remain at $150 million under the House bill, as requested.


Among the applied technology offices, Fossil Energy and Nuclear Energy both received boosts above the request and FY 2015. The Fossil Energy R&D program received smaller-than-requested increases for carbon capture and storage activities, while advanced combustion technologies dodged the cuts proposed by the Administration. The Nuclear Energy increases were applied to advanced reactor concepts, light water reactor sustainability, and development of enabling technology, while fuel cycle R&D was reduced.

The Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (OE) budget would receive a sizable 27.6 percent increase to $187.5 million under the House bill, though this is $83 million less than the President had wanted. The office was helped by a successful amendment offered by E&W Subcommittee Chair Mike Simpson (R-ID), which added an additional $27.5 million for OE's R&D programs. The amendment broke down to $10 million more for smart grid R&D; $10 million more for R&D on transformers and substation equipment; and $7.5 million more for cybersecurity.

What Didn’t: As in past years, E&W Republicans cut spending for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). The office budget would decline by $256 million or 13.4 percent under the current bill, and end up over $1 billion below the President’s ask. The deepest cuts were levied on solar, bioenergy, and water power. The only EERE program to gain fiscal ground was the Advanced Manufacturing office, by 2.5 percent above FY 2015 levels. But the President had wanted to double the program’s size, to allow it to establish two new public-private institutes on clean energy manufacturing while continuing to support four existing institutes. The Administration had asked for $196 million for these efforts; the committee granted $70 million. Elsewhere, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) was given a flat appropriation.

Within the Office of Science, Biological and Environmental Research program funding was again cut significantly, by 9.1 percent. While appropriators didn’t provide a funding breakdown, they again praised the bioscience side of the program; the Administration’s proposed increases, on the other hand, focused entirely on climate and environmental science. Lastly, the Advanced Computing office was trimmed somewhat, and appropriators only granted $99 million for exascale computing activities, compared with a total request of $208.6 million.

Other Issues: Shaun Donovan, the President’s budget director, has already aired criticism of the bill for its spending levels and allocations, and policy riders dealing with water and ocean policy. [April 29 update: the White House position has been elevated to a formal veto threat, for this bill and all others that stick to sequester-level spending.] An amendment offered by E&W Ranking Member Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) to strip all such riders from the bill failed during the markup.

Next Steps: The bill moves next to the House floor, while introduction of a Senate version awaits.


Matt Hourihan


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