Senate panel approves $35B Energy-Water spending bill

Proposal is less than president's request but more than $200 million above figure approved last week by a House subcommittee.

The Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee approved a $34.97 billion fiscal 2011 spending bill without opposition Tuesday, deferring amendments, as usual, to the full committee, which is expected to consider the measure Thursday.

The Senate proposal is more than $200 million above the $34.7 billion approved last week by a House Appropriations subcommittee, but still is $376.3 million below President Obama's request.

It is $1.5 billion above the current year's funding, 82 percent of which would go to the National Nuclear Security Administration to sustain the nuclear weapons stockpile and for nuclear nonproliferation programs, Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said.

Dorgan said improvements and life extension of the nuclear arsenal was a key element behind the weapons reductions proposed in the new START arms control treaty awaiting Senate ratification.

He said "this is not an easy bill to put together," because the subcommittee was unable to fund many of their colleagues' requests for water projects or for the billions of dollars in Army Corps of Engineer projects that are ready to go. But, he added, the subcommittee was not willing to accept the nearly $500 million cut in water projects Obama proposed.

The panel restored money to "a majority of the ongoing projects," Dorgan said.

Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Bob Bennett, R-Utah, agreed the panel had done as good a job as possible with the budget allocation it was given and thanked Dorgan for his bipartisan cooperation. Noting that neither of them will be back next year, Bennett said he hoped the new subcommittee leadership "will have the kind of working relations we've had."

The Energy Department would receive $28.3 billion, with $7 billion of that going to DOE's nuclear weapons programs and $2.6 billion to nonproliferation efforts to safeguard nuclear material that could be used to produce weapons.

Defense environmental cleanup programs, which mainly are at the nuclear weapons production facilities, would receive $5.3 billion. Nondefense environmental cleanup would get $244.2 million.

Energy efficiency and renewable energy initiatives would receive $2.3 billion in the bill, nuclear energy programs would get $783.2 million and fossil fuels $726 million.

DOE's science office would receive $5 billion, and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy would get $200 million for high-risk experiments.

The bill would provide $10 billion in loan guarantees for nuclear energy programs and a similar amount for renewable energy projects.

The Corps of Engineers would be provided $5.3 billion, of which $2.5 billion would support operations and maintenance, $1.8 billion would go to construction, and the Mississippi River and Tributaries accounts would get $335 million.

The Interior Department would be allocated $1.13 billion, most of which would go to the Bureau of Reclamation's water projects, including the California Central Valley Project restoration effort.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said she was disappointed that the bill contained no funding for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, and said she believed that the president had made a mistake in trying to close the Nevada site. Murray said she would offer an amendment in the full committee to address Yucca.