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FY2008 Department of Energy Appropriations (12-29-07)

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The Department of Energy (DOE) programs of interest to the geosciences include programs for renewable energy and activities within the Office of Science, such as the Basic Energy Science program which has a geoscience division. Also of interest is the Yucca Mountain site characterization activities and environmental remediation of the nuclear weapons complex.

The priorities of the Department of Energy's (DOE) energy program are to: increase domestic energy production; revolutionize our approach to energy conservation and efficiency; and promote the development of renewable and alternative energy sources. Fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas -- currently provide more than 85% of all the energy consumed in the United States, nearly two-thirds of our electricity, and virtually all of our transportation fuels. Moreover, it is likely that the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels to power an expanding economy will increase over at least the next two decades even with aggressive development and deployment of new renewable and nuclear technologies. Because our economic health depends on the continued availability of reliable and affordable fossil fuels, the Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy oversees two major fossil fuel efforts: emergency stockpiles of crude oil and heating oil and research and development of future fossil energy technologies.

For analysis of hearings held by Congress on Energy appropriations, click here.

Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 Department of Energy Appropriations Process

Account

FY07 Enacted
($million)

House Action
($million)

Senate Action
($million)

Department of Energy (total)

         

Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

         

--Geothermal

         

--Hydropower

         
--Hydrogen
         

Fossil Energy

         

-- Natural Gas Technologies

         

-- Petroleum - Oil Technology

         

-- Coal Technology

         
---Clean Coal Power Initiative/FutureGen
         
Office of Science
         
--Basic Energy Sciences
         
---Chemical Sciences, Geosciences, and Energy Biosciences
         
--Biological and Environmental Research
         
---Climate Change Research
         
Environmental Management
         
--Defense Environmental Clean-up
         

--Non-Defense Environmental Clean-up

         

---Uranium Enrichment D&D Funding

         
Civilian Radioactive Waste Management
         

--Nuclear Waste Disposal

         

--Defense Nuclear Waste Disposal

         

President's Request

 

House Action


The Energy and Water Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee is chaired by Representative Visclosky (D-IN). Other members include Representatives Edwards (D-TX), Pastor (D-AZ), Berry (B-AR), Fattah (D-PA), Israel (D-NY), Ryan (D-OH), Serrano (D-NY), Olver (D-MA), Obey (D-WI), Hobson (R-OH), Wamp (R-TN), Emerson (R-MO), Doolittle (R-CA), Simpson (R-ID), Granger (R-TX), and Lewis (R-CA).

Senate Action

 

The Energy and Water Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee is chaired by Senator Dorgan (D-ND). Other members include Senators Byrd (D-WV), Murray (D-WA), Feinstein (D-CA), Johnson (D-SD), Landrieu (D-LA), Inouye (D-HI), Reed (D-RI), Lautenberg (D-NJ), Domenici (R-NM), Cochran (R-MS), McConnell (R-KY), Bennett (R-UT), Craig (R-ID), Bond (R-MO), Hutchison (R-TX), and Allard (R-CO).

Emergency Supplemental Includes Science Funding

With a vote of 96-2 by the Senate on June 26th the emergency supplemental bill (H.R. 2642) was passed by Congress and now heads to the White House for the President’s signature.  Although the majority of the $165 billion bill is geared toward funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in fiscal years 2008 and 2009, four science agencies, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation, and the Office of Science within the Department of Energy, (DOE Science) would receive much needed boosts to their FY 2008 funding levels. 

NASA, NSF and DOE Science would receive an additional $62.5 million for FY 2008, while NIH would receive an additional $150 million in funding.  The supplemental funding for NSF was targeted to specific accounts while the other agencies received overall budget increases.  Within NSF, $22.5 million would be allocated to the Research and Related Activities account with $5 million of that funding available solely for the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), and $40 million would be allocated to the Education and Human Resources Directorate, with $20 million of those funds going to the Robert Noyce scholarship program.

FY08 Omnibus

The omnibus for fiscal year 2008 included significant cuts to science and engineering compared to the House and Senate approved bills. The competitiveness initiatives of legislators and the Administration were unable to compete with other fiscal priorities and perhaps some partisanship at the end. Although President Bush has allowed past Republican-led congresses to send him budgets that were significantly over the Administration's total spending limit requests, this year he demanded that legislators meet his spending limits and would not compromise on any details. Congress attempted and failed to override the President's veto of a mini-omnibus and then spent a few days rapidly cutting the extra spending of about $22 billion across 11 appropriation bills.

The outcome is a squeeze on funding of geosciences research across the federal agencies. The National Science Foundation, one of the largest sources of basic geosciences research, will receive a disappointing 2.5 percent increase in total funding after being slated for a 10 percent increase in House and Senate proposals. The Geosciences Directorate will have to cut research support because less funding will be available overall, the Directorate faces significant rising costs for operation, maintenance and infrastructure and any small increases distributed to the Directorate will not keep pace with the cost of inflation, meaning a decrease in funding in real dollars.

The Department of Energy's Office of Science, where additional basic geosciences research is funded also received a last minute reduction of about $500 million compared to funding levels in the House and Senate proposals. Again the geosciences will see real cuts to basic research support, continuing a trend in the Office of Science of decreasing funding for geosciences.

On a more positive note, NASA's Earth science division, Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy and the U.S. Geological Survey will receive small, sustaining increases for geosciences research to keep a wide variety of programs and projects afloat. Over the longer term, these programs and projects will need real increases above the costs of inflation and basic operations and maintenance to ensure that these agencies meet their objectives. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) provides a useful summary of federal investments in research and development (R&D) on an annual basis. According to AAAS, total R&D would increase about 1.2 percent to $142.7 billion for fiscal year 2008 and would be the fourth straight year of decline in real terms in federal R&D. The omnibus bill contains $927 million in non-defense R&D earmarks in 2008, down from $1.5 billion in non-defense R&D earmarks in 2006. The Defense Department budget includes $77.8 billion for R&D and $3.5 billion is specified for earmarks.

Among the major agencies of interest to the geosciences, NASA would receive $12.5 billion for R&D (a 5.7 percent increase compared to fiscal year 2007), the Energy Department would receive $9.376 billion for R&D (a 7.4 percent increase), the National Science Foundation would receive $4.53 billion for R&D (a 1.1 percent increase), USGS would receive $583 million for R&D (a 3.4 percent increase), NOAA would receive $573 million for R&D (a 7.6 percent increase), NIST would receive $514 million (a 4.7 percent increase) and the Smithsonian would receive $175 million for R&D ( the same as their budget for 2007). These numbers from AAAS are focused solely on R&D funding within these agencies and do not consider expenditures that might indirectly affect R&D.

Department of Energy (DOE)
DOE would receive a total budget of $24.675 billion, about one billion dollars less than earlier congressional requests and about $375 million more than the President's request. Congress would provide increases for renewable energy R&D, restore some funding for geothermal, hydropower, natural gas and oil R&D that was terminated in the President's request and boost funding for carbon sequestration R&D.

Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would receive $1.739 billion and of those funds, $213 million would be for hydrogen technology R&D, $200 million for biofuels R&D, $170 million for solar energy R&D, $50 million for wind energy R&D, $20 million for geothermal R&D, $10 million for hydropower R&D, $215 million for vehicle technologies and $110 million for building technologies. Most of these numbers reflect increases in funding compared to the President's request (including a restoration of funds for geothermal and hydropower), reflecting congressional priorities to boost efficiency and the use of renewable energy throughout the nation through R&D.

Fossil Energy would receive $750 million, which is a compromise between the higher Senate bill and the lower House bill. Congress would restore funding for natural gas R&D to $20 million, of which $15 million would be for methane gas hydrate research and $5 million for "effective environmental production" according to the joint report. Congress would also provide a small amount of funds, about $5 million for oil R&D for specific programs (Stripper Well Consortium, Risk Based Data Management Systems and unconventional and enhanced oil recovery programs).

Congress would provide a large increase of $107 million compared to the President's request for Fuels and Power Systems within Fossil Energy. In particular, $120 million is provided for carbon sequestration (an increase of $40 million compared to the President's request) and the Department is encouraged "to study the CO2 accelerated growth algae technology to recycle carbon and produce fuels." In addition, Congress approved $25 million for fuels, an increase of $15 million compared to the request to support biomass and hydrogen fuels research and $37.5 million for "Advanced Research", an increase of $15 million compared to the request, which includes $8 million for a liquefied natural gas report to Congress.

Congress cut the Strategic Petroleum Reserve within Fossil Energy to $188.5 million compared to the President's request of $331.6 million. The joint report indicated that the appropriation committees do not support the expansion of the reserve to 1.5 billion barrels.

The Office of Science would receive $4.055 billion, about $500 million below earlier congressional and Administration proposals. A 0.91 percent rescission decreases the total funding to $4.018 billion (which includes $223 million in earmarks). Biological and Environmental Research would receive $544 million for biological research and for climate change research. Climate change research would receive $138 million, the same amount as fiscal year 2007. Congress requested the Department to separate the two lines of research into separate sub-accounts in future fiscal years, presumably to help them manage overall funding for climate change research in the Department of Energy and across all agencies in the future. Basic Energy Sciences, where the bulk of basic geosciences research is located, would receive $1,269.9 million (rescission-adjusted), a small increase of about $19 million compared to fiscal year 2007.

For more details on federal R&D funding from AAAS, please visit their R&D Policy Web page.

For the full text of the omnibus and the related reports please visit Thomas and link to their extensive appropriations section.

Appropriations Hearings

Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development
Fiscal 2008 Appropriations: DOE Energy and Water Development

March 21, 2007

Witness:
Dr. Raymond Orbach, Under Secretary for Science, Department of Energy (DOE)

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development met for a brief hearing on March 21 to discuss the President's 2008 budget request for the DOE's Office of Science. Unlike the budgets of many other federal science agencies, the Office of Science budget would provide increases for research and development and overall the office would receive a $600 million increase. "Perhaps you will reveal your secret relationship with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that you can come here with a $600 million increase," quipped Chairman Byron Dorgan (D-ND).

Ranking Member Pete Domenici (R-NM) was also pleased with the budget, but worried that the Office of Science is "a small office becoming a large and powerful one." "Perhaps it can stay small and powerful," he suggested. Domenici also emphasized the importance of ensuring that America's national labs continue to produce the "best science in the world," and suggested that the labs be thought of as "national user facilities" available for research by DOE and other scientists.

Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) echoed Domenici's words in his opening statement. Calling for a "new relationship" between the federal government and the private sector, he too encouraged DOE to consider national labs as "multi-user" facilities. Craig lauded the fact that the national labs have evolved from producing primarily war-related research to turning "swords into plowshares" by contributing to a wide array of peaceful research endeavors.

In fact, a significant proportion of the DOE Office of Science budget will be directed toward finding ways to lessen the nation's dependency on foreign oil. $531.9 million is allocated for the Biological and Environmental Research program, which includes the three new Bioenergy Research Centers, the interagency Climate Change Science Program, and U.S. contributions to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or ITER, which is an international magnetic confinement fusion research project that will be built in France.

Similarly, the budget request for the Basic Energy Sciences (BES) program is nearly $1.5 billion. Basic research supported by the BES program "touches virtually every aspect of energy resources," from production and efficiency to infrastructure and waste mitigation, Dr. Orbach said in his testimony.

Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO) approved of the $77.5 increase to BES and commented that basic research is one of the federal government's most important scientific functions. Investment in basic research is often too risky and expensive for private industry: "that's where the feds step in," Allard explained. Once the initial investment has been made and the research validated, the private sector can develop the product and bring it to market, often with far greater speed and success than the government.

Unfortunately this risky and expensive research often yields results that don't translate into commercial development right away because of costs, commercial feasibility or unknown development avenues. This trail-breaking role with initial dead-ends or blocked pathways is known cynically as "DOE's Valley of Death." Chairman Dorgan questioned Orbach about this moniker, concerned that "too little research translates into a marketable science." Dr. Orbach agreed that a lot of money is spent on projects that eventually prove unfeasible, but argued that such is the nature of the beast. While the end goal may not be reached, new science is often discovered en route.

Orbach also noted that DOE is "coming up with innovative ways to cross the Valley of Death." Partnerships with the private sector play a key role in offsetting the cost of basic research by eventually bringing the project to market. For example, the Bioenergy Research Centers will work closely with private interests to ensure that the basic research developed in the laboratories will be applied and marketed efficiently and effectively.

"It must be nirvana," Chairman Dorgan commented as the hearing came to a close. "It must be nirvana to have the money to hire scientists and be able to investigate the universe's secrets."

-EG

House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development
FY 2008 Department of Energy Research and Development Budget Proposal
March 14, 2007

Witness:
Dr. Raymond Orbach, Under Secretary for Science, U.S. Department of Energy

The Department of Energy's (DOE) perennial budget woes dogged the agency at yet another hearing held on Wednesday by the House Appropriations subcommittee on Energy and Water Development. Chairman Peter Visclosky (D-IN) congratulated Dr. Orbach for his management of the Office of Science, saying that "without the expectation of good management…it would be difficult to consider the large increase requested for your office." Thanks to DOE's "bad habit" of making million-dollar commitments that invariably exceed cost estimates and run behind schedule, the agency treads a thin line between congressional support and budget cuts. The Office of Science has requested a $600 million increase for 2008, an amount the committee is willing to grant provided that DOE can stay within its budget, complete projects on time and ensure that the money is being used fairly and efficiently.

The 2008 budget request reflects the President's commitment to doubling federal investment in the physical sciences by 2016 as outlined in the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI). Stressing the importance of meeting the ACI goal, Dr. Orbach commented that "those who dominate in science will dominate the 21st century global economy." With the $600 million increase, the Office of Science will support three Bioenergy Research Centers, the interagency Climate Change Science Program, and U.S. contributions to ITER (originally an acronym standing for International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, an international magnetic confinement fusion research project), as well as nanoscale and computing research.

DOE's 2008 goals were lauded by the committee, albeit with some reservation. Comparing funding for physical science research with that for health science research, Representative Zach Wamp (R-TN) asked Dr. Orbach how the DOE will "market" the increase to the public "since you are not the sexiest part of the science world." Dr. Orbach countered by saying that global warming and natural disaster mitigation concerns have propelled the physical sciences into the center of the public eye in recent years. "There is a feeling in the country that we need to step things up," he said.

Despite the potential for scientific and economic gains proposed in the 2008 budget request, the committee is wary of granting the full request to DOE. As Chairman Visclosky pointed out, projects such as the U.S. Mixed-Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Department of Energy's Savannah River Site in South Carolina, the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) and the Reliable Replacement Warhead Program have cost overruns that add up to billions of dollars. "The DOE's cost estimates are so incredibly inaccurate," he said. "I worry that we're going down the wrong road."

Cost overruns on big-ticket projects are particularly troublesome for Congress because once a project is initiated, a constituency is established that depends on the projects for jobs and other benefits. The MOX program has proven to be a particularly large headache for Congress. Originally intended as a joint effort between the U.S. and Russian to turn 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium into nuclear fuel, the actual utility of the project is in question and the Russians have proven reluctant to hold up their end of the bargain. Furthermore, over a billion dollars have already been spent on environmental assessment and other preparatory activities and, if project milestones aren't met, the state of South Carolina can collect fines.

However, the problem is not with the science or with DOE's goals, argued Dr. Orbach. "More often than not, cost overruns are due to management and shortfalls in management," he said.

Management was in fact one of the committee's primary concerns. Tight budgets have prompted Congress to ensure that monies are used as wisely and as transparently as possible. "Only 35 percent of research supported by your office is outside the various DOE labs," Chairman Visclosky pointed out. Although 70 percent of users of DOE facilities come from outside DOE labs, Visclosky wanted to ensure that access to national laboratory facilities and grant monies is both open and impartial.

Despite concerns about budget overruns and deadline slippages, the committee was largely in support of the 2008 budget request. "Science is the best hope for the future of this country," said Ranking Member David Hobson (R-OH).

-EG

House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies
Hearing on the Administration's FY 2008 Budget Proposal for DOE
March 6, 2007

Witness:
Samuel Bodman, Secretary of Energy

Never a good way to garner congressional support, budget overruns are quickly becoming the worst nightmare of federal agencies across the board. In a hearing held by the House Appropriations subcommittee on Energy and Water Development on Tuesday, March 6, it was clear that the Department of Energy (DOE) is no exception. Threatening to trim funding for the DOE's major construction projects, whose costs have spiraled out of control, Chairman Peter Visclosky (D-IN) asked why the committee should be "reassured that anything has changed at DOE."

Ranking Member David Hobson (R-OH) agreed and, while congratulating Energy Secretary Bodman on his accomplishments since assuming his position, commented that he is "very frustrated that Bodman's talents haven't led to more results." Citing programs such as the Savannah River site mixed-oxide fuel fabrication plant (MOX) and the Hanford radioactive waste vitrification plant, the committee members decried DOE's track record of program estimate failures. In 1996, the Hanford plant was projected to cost $3.2 billion, an estimate that has nearly quadrupled over the past ten years. The MOX plant was estimated to cost $1 billion in 2002 but now carries a price tag of $5 billion.

"Maybe if we had fewer major construction projects DOE could be focused on proving it can solve systematic problems," Visclosky suggested.

The MOX facility headache is the result of more than just ballooning costs, however. The utility of the plant has been in question for some time and the House has acted several times to halt the project. Hobson commented that the original rationale for the project no longer appears valid. Intended as a joint effort with the Russians to turn 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium into nuclear fuel, the Russians have expressed considerable reluctance to continue with the project. However, millions of dollars have already been spent on accessing the site and the program now has an "embedded constituency" in South Carolina, making it extremely costly and difficult to back out of now.

The Yucca Mountain Repository was also closely scrutinized by the committee. Proposed as the nation's first long-term geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste, the actual disposal capacity of Yucca Mountain remains in question. Rep. Michael Simpson (R-ID) expressed concern that DOE does not actually know if Yucca Mountain will provide sufficient storage space. "We do have the capacity," replied Bodman. "We will rely on the science of geology to tell us what to do next." The Yucca Mountain Repository is expected to open in 2020. In the meantime, the Department of Justice assumes the liability costs and responsibilities for nuclear fuel and radioactive waste. Rep. Simpson asked if DOE has any plans to repay the Judgement Fund, given that liability is "a DOE problem." Bodman indicated that no such plans exist.

Irritated, Chairman Visclosky commented that DOE would probably exhibit more interest in completing construction of the facility if it is responsible for liability costs. "The agency that causes the liability ought to pick up the tab," he said.

Assuring the committee that DOE will "do everything in its power" to complete the Yucca Mountain project, Bodman noted that once the application for its construction has won approval, the project "will take on a life of its own," particularly because it will then become the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission's responsibility.

DOE's handling of major construction programs, Visclosky said, creates "an intractable problem if you don't grab it around the throat and just say 'Stop!' Rep. Hobson agreed, exhorting DOE to "stop the fast track, start the smart track!"

With the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership looming large on the horizon, the committee is particularly interested in ensuring that DOE gets on the "smart track" quickly. A multibillion dollar proposal to store, reprocess and recycle nuclear waste for use in advanced reactors, GNEP is currently a research program and as such does not require authorization from Congress. However, environmental studies are already underway for 11 sites in eight states.

Repeating sentiments that had been voiced throughout the hearing, Visclosky warned the Department of Energy to get it right, saying that "once that shovel is in the ground, there is a constituency for it and we cannot take it away."

-EG

Sources: Department of Energy; Environment and Energy Daily; Greenwire; U.S. House of Representatives; United States Senate; Hearing testimony.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at govt@agiweb.org.

Contributed by Linda Rowan, AGI Government Affairs Staff, and Erin Gleeson, AGI/AAPG Spring 2007 Intern.

Last Update March 29, 2007.


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