An appropriations bill approved by a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday rejects the Trump administration’s proposal to cut $919 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science in the fiscal year that starts October 1.
Instead of cutting, the Senate bill would actually increase funding for the Office of Science, boosting it to $5.55 billion in fiscal year 2018. That would be again a record funding level in a regular appropriations bill, according to U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican who often advocates for the federal sites in Oak Ridge and chairs the Senate subcommittee.
Like the Senate this week, the House Appropriations Committee last week also rejected President Donald Trump’s request to cut DOE’s Office of Science.
Unlike the Senate bill, though, the House bill would keep funding flat at $5.39 billion, the same as in the current fiscal year. That level of funding was also a record in a regular appropriations bill, Alexander said in May.
The Office of Science is the nation’s largest supporter of research in the physical sciences.
The president’s budget request, submitted to Congress on May 23, would cut Office of Science funding by about 17 percent, dropping it to $4.47 billion.
Keeping Office of Science funding flat, or even increasing it, could be important to several of the federal sites in Oak Ridge. Oak Ridge National Laboratory is an Office of Science lab, and the Office of Scientific and Technical Information, or OSTI, is an Office of Science unit.
Also, there are administrative, business, and technical services at DOE’s Oak Ridge Office that are part of the Office of Science Integrated Support Center.
“The Department of Energy’s research programs and 17 national laboratories have made the United States a world leader in science and technology, which is why we must continue to prioritize spending on these efforts so the United States remains competitive at a time when other countries are investing heavily in research,” Alexander said.
Besides the Office of Science, the appropriations bill would also provide a new record funding level, $330 million, in a regular appropriations bill for another U.S. Department of Energy research program, the Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy, or ARPA-E, Alexander said. The House bill approved by the Appropriations Committee last week would not provide any money for ARPA-E.
Alexander chairs the Senate subcommittee, the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee. The appropriations bill was agreed upon by him and ranking subcommittee member Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat.
“We need to remember that research funding for Department of Energy laboratories has produced technologies for unconventional natural gas development, supercomputing, 3D printing, nuclear imaging devices used for medical diagnosis, MRI scanners, optical digital recording technology used to make DVDs, batteries and energy storage systems for cars and trucks and the electric grid, and precision detectors and pharmaceuticals,” Alexander said. “I’m also pleased to also be able to say that this bill makes it clear supercomputing is a national priority—which is something (Energy Secretary Rick) Perry and I both feel strongly about.”
That could be good news for Oak Ridge. Among other things, ORNL is home to Titan, the world’s fourth most powerful supercomputer.
The subcommittee sent the bill to the full Appropriations Committee in a voice vote Tuesday. Only Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, voted “no.”
No amendments were offered during the half-hour hearing on Tuesday. Alexander asked subcommittee members to hold amendments until Thursday’s markup by the full committee. The Appropriations Committee will mark up the legislation, the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2018, on Thursday morning.
Other spending provisions that could affect Oak Ridge include $13.7 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration (Y-12 National Security Complex is an NNSA site), $663 million for the Uranium Processing Facility at Y-12, and $518 million for cleaning up hazardous materials at federal sites in Oak Ridge, including East Tennessee Technology Park, ORNL, and Y-12.
The $38.4 billion bill would fund U.S. Department of Energy programs and critical infrastructure projects administered by the Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation. Total funding would be up $629 million above fiscal year 2017 and $4.1 billion above the president’s request.
In other provisions that could affect Oak Ridge, the Senate bill includes $24 million for the Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors, or CASL, at ORNL; $150 million for the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility at ORNL, an increase of $40 million from last year; and $20 million to support development work at ORNL’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility in Hardin Valley.
“CASL is important for supporting our existing fleet of reactors as well as advanced reactors we may build in the future,” Alexander said.
The U.S. funding contribution to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor in France would be eliminated, while the Appalachian Regional Commission would not be.
There has been some concern at ORNL about the president’s proposal to cut the Office of Science. If approved, the president’s request could lead to a $185 million funding cut for ORNL, according to DOE budget data, and Feinstein has said Trump’s budget could result in 1,600 layoffs at the lab.
But in May, former ORNL Director Thom Mason said the original proposed cut of $900 million seemed unlikely. He said there is bipartisan support for Office of Science work.
“I’m pretty confident that the lab will come through okay in the end,” said Mason, who recently left the lab after 10 years to serve as senior vice president for laboratory operations at Battelle in Columbus, Ohio, starting July 1.
On Tuesday, Alexander said the budget proposal submitted by the president was unrealistic.
Besides cutting Office of Science funding by a little more than $919 million, the president’s budget request proposed a significant decrease in federally funded research and development programs, and it asked to terminate ARPA-E, Alexander said. The senator has opposed eliminating ARPA-E, which was created by the 2007 America COMPETES Act to invest in high-impact energy technologies.
Here are some highlights of the Senate energy and water appropriations bill approved by the subcommittee on Tuesday:
- The $5.55 billion proposed for DOE’s Office of Science would be an increase of $158 million, compared to fiscal year 2017. It’s the third year in a row that the subcommittee has approved the highest-ever level of funding for the DOE Office of Science in a regular appropriations bill.
- The $13.7 billion for the NNSA would include $1.7 billion to continue the four ongoing life extension programs, which fix or replace components in weapons systems to make sure they’re safe and reliable. If approved, the NNSA funding would be $747 million above fiscal year 2017. The NNSA is a semi-autonomous part of DOE, and its nuclear security programs include weapons activities, naval reactors, and defense nuclear nonproliferation. “Efforts to extend the life of the current nuclear weapons stockpile are fully funded, as are programs targeted at working with international partners to reduce the risks of nuclear terrorism,” a minority press release said.
- The $663 million for the Uranium Processing Facility at Y-12 would be meant to ensure that the project will continue to stay on time and on budget. The UPF is supposed to be completed by 2025 and cost no more than $6.5 billion.
- The bill provides $6.6 billion to support the cleanup of radioactive and hazardous materials at Cold War-era sites, which is $126 million above the president’s budget request. Included in this amount is the $518 million for cleanup at ETTP, ORNL, and Y-12. The $6.6 billion for DOE environmental management activities would be $214 million above fiscal year 2017. “The bill addresses many of the highest environmental risks posed by these sites,” the minority press release said.
- The $20 million for the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility would be used to support the development of additive manufacturing processes, low-cost carbon fiber, and other advanced manufacturing technologies. The bill also includes $14 million for the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation, or IACMI.
- The bill would provide $1.94 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. That would be $153 million below fiscal year 2017 but $1.3 billion more than the president had requested. It’s significantly more than the House bill proposed. Under the House bill, EERE would be cut by about 50 percent, from roughly $2 billion to $1.1 billion. DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy provided $116.9 million to ORNL in fiscal year 2015, and it is a partner at ORNL’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility.
- The bill provides $1.49 billion for advanced scientific computing and research, including $734.2 million within the National Nuclear Security Administration and $763 million within the Office of Science.
- This amount includes $381 million from the Office of Science and the NNSA to deliver at least one exascale machine in 2021 to reassert U.S. leadership in this critical area, Alexander said.
- It also includes the $150 million for the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility, an increase of $40 million above last year.
- The bill would decrease funding for energy programs to $11.1 billion, $189 million below fiscal year 2017 but $3.6 billion above the president’s request. “Within this total, the bill prioritizes and increases funding for energy programs that encourage U.S. economic competitiveness and that will advance an ‘all-of-the-above’ solution to U.S. energy independence,” a majority press release said.
- The bill would eliminate funding for the U.S. contribution to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor in France, the world’s largest fusion experiment. US ITER is a DOE Office of Science project hosted by ORNL. Partner labs are Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and Savannah River National Laboratory. This proposal would save $50 million.
- The bill also continues to fund regional commissions, which the Trump administration proposed to eliminate, including $142 million for the Appalachian Regional Commission and $25 million for the Delta Regional Authority. The ARC has provided funding for the Oak Ridge Airport project.
Alexander highlighted other funding priorities as well, including restoring $1 billion to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that was cut from Trump’s budget, bringing the Corps’ budget up to $6.2 billion—a record funding level—and money to continue construction of Chickamauga Lock in Chattanooga. He highlighted funding for advanced reactors and a pilot program to allow consolidated nuclear waste storage.
“I am very pleased with this bill because we were able to work together under difficult conditions to fund our nation’s energy and water priorities, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass the bill in the coming weeks,” Alexander said.
If approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday, the legislation, described as a bipartisan bill, could be one of the first appropriations bills considered by the full Senate this year. The legislation is the product of four budget hearings in June, and the subcommittee received funding recommendations from 82 senators, Alexander said.
“Reaching an agreement was not easy,” he said.
He said Congress has less money to appropriate than last year under the Budget Control Act spending caps. The subcommittee received an allocation for defense spending that is nearly $1.044 billion above last year, and an allocation for non-defense spending that is $414 million below last year.
“Since governing is about setting priorities, we had to make hard decisions to reduce or eliminate programs to make sure that the highest priorities in the bill received adequate funding,” Alexander said. Besides eliminating funding for the U.S. contribution to ITER, the bill would eliminate a loan guarantee program, using the money to fund science and energy research and development instead.
Although she supported the bill, Feinstein expressed concern about the overall funding levels.
“All of the overall increase in our bill is on the defense side,” Feinstein said.
It’s the second year in a row that there would be a $1 billion increase in defense spending, while non-defense spending would be down $415 million this year after being flat last year, Feinstein said.
“I’m concerned that this bill continues a pattern of more money for weapons and lower or flat funding for eveything else,” Feinstein said.
But she said that the bill drafted by Alexander reflects the best possible funding levels under the current budget constraints.
“While I don’t support all of the cuts in this bill, it’s my hope that both parties will be able to negotiate a budget agreement later this year to restore funding for many of those programs,” Feinstein said. “I’m pleased to see the bill preserves important investments in scientific research, ARPA-E, Army Corps infrastructure projects, and drought resiliency.”
Feinstein said two steps were taken with non-defense spending to fund the increases for the Army Corps of Engineers and the Office of Science. First, applied energy programs were cut by 8 percent, and second, the loan program was zeroed out.
“I think we need to have some balance on how we fund our government across all of our subcommittees,” Feinstein said.
A few senators from the Northeast, Republican Susan Collins of Maine and Democrat Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, said they appreciated the Senate bill’s rejection of the president’s deep proposed cuts to Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and weatherization assistance.
“This is a good bill,” Shaheen said. “Obviously, resources are challenging. I’m hopeful that at some point we can roll back sequestration and the cuts that have been made as part of sequestration, which would make it much easier to get a budget for this country that makes sense.”
Collins pointed out some of the benefits of the funding being considered Tuesday. For example, while discussing energy efficiency and renewable energy, she said the University of Maine has used federal seed money for a deep offshore wind initiative and is collaborating with ORNL on cutting-edge work on bio-based composites, using feedstocks made of forest products and composites for wind turbine components.
She said she’s excited about 3D printing and advanced manufacturing (ORNL is involved in both), and she said basic and applied energy programs can position the United States as a global leader, create good jobs, and strengthen the economy.
See the Senate Appropriations committee website here.
See the Republican majority news release on the appropriations bill that passed the subcommittee on Tuesday here.
See the Democratic minority news release here.
Listen to the Tuesday subcommittee hearing here.
Listen to the Thursday committee hearing at 10:30 a.m. here.
See Alexander’s press release from Tuesday here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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