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This Week in Appropriations: Mixed Bag for Climate & Environment Research in House

Additional details on funding increases for NASA, energy, and agriculture R&D also emerged.

See also the AAAS Appropriations Dashboard to follow the process as it unfolds.

House appropriators continued to make steady progress advancing several bills dealing with NASA, EPA, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Energy (DOE), and several others this week. For some agencies, additional details on the assorted funding increases reported last week also emerged via report language

Climate & Environment Research: NASA Earth Science and USGS Spared the Worst, But NOAA and EPA Cut

Two bills with significant climate and environment research funding – the Interior and the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) bills – offered very mixed outcomes, with some programs slated for sharp reductions even as most were protected from deeper White House-proposed cuts:

  • NASA Earth Science saw a small 1.1 percent decrease from FY 2018, much less severe than the Administration’s request and a reversal from past House attempts to scale back earth science funding more substantially. Appropriators indicated they support the recommendations of the recent decadal survey for earth science, and order NASA to implement its findings. During markup, CJS Chairman John Culberson (R-TX) achieved passage of an amendment that sets aside $10 million for a climate monitoring system that was targeted for elimination by the Administration.
  • NOAA Climate Research was cut by a major 37.6 percent below FY 2018 levels, matching the Administration’s proposal to eliminate competitive climate grants. However, House appropriators dismissed the Administration’s proposal to terminate federal funding for the Sea Grant Program and the National Estuarine Research Reserves System, and provided a 31.5 percent increase for ocean exploration and research.
  • EPA’s Science and Technology (S&T) account was subject to a large 8.9 percent cut below last year’s enacted levels; further details on EPA S&T will be reported after the Interior bill report is released.
  • The U.S. Geological Survey saw a small 1.6 percent total increase above last year; individual account levels within USGS will be known when the panel releases its report to accompany the bill text. The subcommittee bill summary does specify that $21 million would go towards the earthquake early warning system, which was slated for elimination by the Administration. The subcommittee also promises full funding for Landsat 9 development.
  • U.S. Forest Service rangeland research was flat-funded. The full appropriations committee will vote on Forest Service, EPA, and US Geological Survey funding next week.

NASA Notes: Boosts for Astrophysics, Space Technology

As noted last week, NASA received a 3.9 percent funding increase in the House bill. Additional details emerging this week:

  • Astrophysics was boosted by 21 percent above last year, excluding James Webb telescope funding. The House also provides $150 million for the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), which was slated for elimination by the Administration. Core astrophysics research and analysis matched the request level.
  • Heliophysics was overall flat-funded, while the James Webb Space Telescope budget matched the requested amount; bill language included by the CJS subcommittee warns against cost overruns plaguing JWST.
  • Within NASA Aeronautics, House appropriators granted the requested $88.3 million for the Low Boom Flight Demonstrator.
  • House appropriators provided a $10 million increase for the Human Research Program, and recommend against moving human research out of the Exploration account, as proposed by the Administration. The CJS report also expresses concern that NASA is not maximizing human research opportunities on the ISS.

Energy Notes: Gains for Fusion, Computing, Advanced Reactors and Coal Technology

As reported last week, DOE SC gets a 5.4 percent boost to all-time high of $6.6 billion. Among the funding details emerging this week:

  • House appropriators topped the Trump Administration’s already-generous request for the advanced computing program with a 12.9 percent increase above FY 2018 levels, though this includes a smaller-than-requested 9.8 percent increase for SC’s exascale project. Funding includes $26 million to launch an initiative on big data and AI, and sizable increases for computing centers at Argonne, Oak Ridge, and Berkeley labs.
  • Fusion energy research was also spared deep cuts with a 10.9 percent funding boost instead. The bulk of this would be devoted to a $41 million or 33.6 percent increase for the international fusion project, ITER, but other research would receive a 4.1 percent increase as well, including a large boost for international research collaborations. SciDAC fusion funding also received a 25 percent increase to $25 million.
  • Appropriators also nearly doubled funding for the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment to $175 million total, and provided funding to initiative the sPHENIX project at Brookhaven.

On the Energy Department’s technology front:

  • The House bill provides a 44.6 percent increase for advanced coal R&D, and includes $25 million in continued funding (contra the White House request) for a pair of transformational coal pilot projects.
  • Advanced nuclear reactor R&D was increased by 56 percent or $133 million above FY 2018 levels, including $100 million for advanced small modular reactor R&D. The bill also increased funding for the Nuclear Science User Facilities by 22 percent, and protected the modeling and simulation innovation hub from elimination.
  • Appropriators also added approximately $50 million above the request for DOE’s new grid cybersecurity office.
  • DOE’s clean energy manufacturing institutes and the innovation hub on critical materials were saved from elimination, but reductions for renewable energy and efficiency programs range from 7.5 percent for bioenergy to 21.8 percent for solar R&D.

Agriculture Notes: Competitive Grants, Some Capacity Funds Boosted

As noted last week, most USDA research programs would be protected from White House-proposed cuts and lab closures. Additional details emerging this week:

  • House appropriators signaled their willingness to accept the transition of the NBAF from DHS to USDA. DHS has been responsible for NBAF construction while USDA was responsible for future research program, but the Administration has proposed shifting future NBAF stewardship fully to USDA.
  • AFRI gets extra $40 million above request, and a 3.8 percent increase above FY18
  • In recent years, NIFA capacity programs have tended to see only limited funding changes, but this year House agriculture appropriators would provide roughly 6 percent increases in funding for Hatch Act experiment stations and the McIntire-Stennis Cooperative Forestry research program.

Other Notes: NSF, Department of Transportation

As reported last week, NSF funding would reach an all-time high. The CJS report provides additional details on NSF’s research facilities, which were largely protected:

  • The Regional Class Research Vessel (RCRV) project would receive additional funding to construct three RCRVs, versus the two requested by the Administration.
  • The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) would receive a full $75 million above the requested amount of $48.8 million, while the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) would be funded at the requested level of $16.1 million.
  • Supporting language is included for the Astronomical Sciences Division’s facilities, which would be funded at no less than last year’s levels.

House appropriators also adopted this year’s Department of Transportation funding bill in subcommittee. Among other things, the bill protects railroad R&D and the FAA’s NextGen program from Administration-proposed cuts.