The big nuclear news in the omnibus federal budget bill currently before Congress is that the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project receives no new funding for 2015–much to the chagrin of some in the nuclear industry and its Washington backers.
Small victories do matter, and that is indeed a victory. Although given the makeup of the incoming Congress, the next budget could well include a ton of taxpayer dollars directed once again at that failed endeavor. Congress has never been too concerned with the concept of “good money after bad.”
A closer look at the energy budget reveals a case of misplaced priorities all around.
Overall, the area of purview of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee–which includes energy, nuclear weapons, Interior Department and other agencies and issues–receives a total of $34.2 Billion. That includes a very modest increase from last year of $142 million. Not that the increase is being spent on anything useful.
Energy programs themselves get only $10.2 Billion, a $22 million increase. But take a look at how the money is being spent:
*$571 million for research and development to advance coal, natural gas, oil, and other fossil energy technologies – an increase of $8.9 million (1.5%) above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level and $95.5 million (20%) above the President’s request – to help the country make better use of our domestic resources and reduce energy costs;
*$914 million for nuclear energy research and development, an increase of $24 million (2.7%) above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level and $50 million (5.8%) above the President’s request, to further the next generation of nuclear power while ensuring the safety and longevity of our current plants;
*$1.9 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs – placing priority on advanced manufacturing and weatherization assistance. This funding is targeted to effective and proven programs, while holding the line on spending in other areas. This total is $380 million – or 16% – below the President’s request.
President Obama has been trying to decrease funding for nuclear and fossil fuel programs, and raise funding for renewables and energy efficiency. The energy budget as it almost certainly will be passed by Congress turns that on its head–increasing taxpayer dollars for fossil fuels and nuclear and cutting back on clean energy.
There is some chance, the Washington rumor mill says, that the budget bill won’t pass this week. If that happens, a government shutdown probably will be avoided with a continuing resolution and the larger budget issues will carry over until next year. But, if the omnibus budget bill doesn’t pass, it won’t be because of energy issues. What’s stated here is how it will be.
And this is with the Democrats still in charge in the Senate.
As they say, wait til next year. It will get worse.
In other words, don’t look–for the next two years anyway–to the federal level for support for clean energy; the Republicans (as always, with some Democratic support) are going to double down on boosting nuclear and fossil fuels while they can. They know they may not still be in power after the 2016 election so they’re going to do as much damage as they can while they do have the power. And there won’t be much President Obama can do to stop them. He’s not, after all, in a position to veto a bill that keeps the government open over a shift in energy priorities.
Even misplaced priorities.
If we’re going to make progress on clean energy issues and on dealing with the climate crisis these next two years–and we can–it will be in the states. And, even more crucially than federal and state budgets, progress will occur because of the relentless march of clean energy innovation and cost reduction. Federal support could accelerate that march; but misdirecting taxpayer dollars won’t prevent the advances occurring every day. Existing state-level policies to encourage clean energy deployment must be defended and expanded to more states. Efforts to gut those policies, and to implement new policies to support nuclear power and fossil fuel, must be effectively resisted. Those are the battle lines.
December 11, 2014
UPDATE, December 12, 2014. More details are now emerging about the Congressional spending bill, which passed the House last night and is expected to pass the Senate today. Included in the bill (and providing some more detail to the broader dollar numbers listed above) is $345 million for construction of a MOX (plutonium-based) fuel plant in South Carolina that the Obama administration has been trying to cancel. Also included is yet another taxpayer bailout for the former US Enrichment Corporation’s (USEC) failed centrifuge uranium enrichment plant in Ohio. USEC went bankrupt last year despite repeated taxpayer bailouts and the project is now called the American Centrifuge Project. Apparently, their lobbyists are just as hard-working as USEC’s were, and were able to grab $97 million in taxpayer dollars to keep the project (barely) alive through next September. However, their technology and capability (not to mention a declining market for enriched uranium) have never been as good as their lobbyists and there is no reason to believe the project will ever do anything but suck up taxpayer dollars.
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