The House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee released its draft bill today. It takes positive steps toward environmental regulation and nuclear waste management. But the draft legislation largely misses the mark by continuing wasteful, taxpayer-funded energy subsidies and boosting spending for conventional energy such as oil, gas, coal, and nuclear energy technologies.
The subcommittee should have zeroed-out research and development for commercial activities. Instead, the House bill slices renewable spending only 5.9 percent below 2014 levels—to $1.8 billion (calling this a “cut” would be too generous). To make matters worse, the bill actually increases spending for nuclear and fossil fuel activities that can and should be left to private companies.
For instance, the Department of Energy (DOE) would get your dollars to develop mining, renewable, small nuclear reactor, and clean coal technologies. The bill would also direct the Secretary of Energy to “carry out a program of research and development for innovative and transformational technologies to maximize the efficiency of gas turbines used in power generation systems.” If these technologies are as promising and transformational as the DOE advertises, they won’t need to give private industry our money to finance these projects.
Even if the spending increases were done in an attempt to counteract the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed regulations threatening affordable energy from conventional fuels, such spending is counterproductive. Further, even though renewable handouts are much larger than nuclear and conventional fuels, the best policy is to zero-out all taxpayer spending for commercial activities if our objective is robust, affordable, clean energy supplies.
However the House bill does contain pragmatic and important spending initiatives, too.
Working around Congress from the start, the Obama Administration abandoned the nuclear waste repository designated by law to be at Yucca Mountain if the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved its license application. Instead, the Administration developed a loose alternative for some repository, somewhere, sometime by 2048. Consequently, the NRC stopped reviewing the Yucca Mountain license and then claimed it didn’t have enough money to finish it anyway. (Though the NRC didn’t see fit to ask Congress for funds to finish Yucca Mountain’s license, it did ask for funds to implement the Administration’s new plan.)
The subcommittee provided $150 million for the DOE to implement the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, $55 million for the NRC to finish the Yucca Mountain license review, and nothing for the implementation of the Obama Administration’s plan. Finishing the review of Yucca Mountain is a critical part of any plan moving forward. However, the current system of managing nuclear waste in the U.S. is completely broken and must be overhauled. Therefore, no money should have gone to what is otherwise a sinking ship.
The subcommittee takes another important step by preventing the EPA from redefining “navigable waters” under the Clean Water Act (CWA). The EPA’s redefinition is one of the most expansive threats to individual freedom and the economy at large. Congress enacted the CWA to deal with factories releasing pollutants into the nation’s rivers, but the definition of “navigable waters” has been stretched well beyond congressional intent.
Preventing onerous and unnecessary regulations is important in reining in the federal government’s overreach, but a critical component of reducing the government’s excessive meddling in the economy is to tighten its belt. This bill leaves a few too many notches.