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How The New Omnibus Budget Affects Climate And Energy Policy

Originally published on ThinkProgress.
By Jeff Spross.

Image Credit: Matt H. Wade.

Earlier this week, lawmakers dropped a $1.1 trillion bill to fund the federal government’s discretionary spending through the rest of fiscal year 2014. The omnibus budget represents a bipartisan compromise aimed at relieving some of the sequester cuts, while also extending funding that would’ve run out this week, and holding off another government shutdown brawl until at least September. Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, told the Washington Post that he expects most Congressional members from both parties to vote in favor of the budget.

For environmental and climate concerns, the omnibus budget brings a variety of changes for both good and ill, starting with funding for the relevant agencies and departments:

Environmental Protection Agency. The omnibus budget cuts EPA’s budget 1.7 percent, from $8.43 billion in 2013 to $8.2 billion in 2014. Though the final number is actually higher than the $8.15 billion the White House originally requested.

Department of Energy. Funding for government research into renewable energy and efficiency gets a 4.8 percent boost in the omnibus budget, from $1.95 billion in 2013 to $2.05 billion in 2014. That level is unfortunately lower than what was requested by the White House and proposed by the Senate, but it’s also much higher than the $983 million the House GOP wanted to go with. The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) — an advanced green energy research project originally funded by the 2009 stimulus — also gets a 5.6 percent increase to $280 million in 2014. Again, that’s lower than the $379 million the White House and Senate wanted, but way above the $90 million the House GOP wanted. On the downside, research into fossil fuel development also gets more than the White House, the Senate, or the House GOP wanted: $562 million, 5.2 percent up from 2013. And President Obama’s request for $200 million to support a “Race To The Top” energy efficiency program is scrapped entirely.

Department of the Interior. Overall, the department’s funding goes up slightly, from $10.46 billion in 2013 to $10.47 billion in 2014. On a more granular level, the budgets for the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service get a boost, while the Fish and Wildlife Service takes a haircut.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The various branches of NOAA and its fleet of satellites are especially important when it comes to researching, predicting, and tracking severe weather. Unfortunately, NOAA’s overall budget drops around 3 percent under the omnibus budget, to $5.31 billion in 2014 — once again lower than what the White House and Senate asked for, and more than the House GOP wanted. NOAA’s two main satellite projects actually receive their full funding requests, though a few smaller programs get trimmed or rejected entirely.

Environmental cleanup and water resources. The omnibus budget also secures $5.8 billion for environmental cleanup efforts — though most of that appears to fall under the umbrella of defense spending — which is a $111 million increase over 2013 levels, according to the Democrats. The boost for the Interior Department also includes $1.11 billion for water resources projects, a $46 million hike from 2013.

Along with department and agency funding, the 2014 omnibus budget also includes a few riders with more specific consequences for certain policies and programs.

Weakened limits on investment in overseas coal projects. Earlier in 2013, the Obama administration released new guidelines curtailing when the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) could invest in coal power in foreign countries. A provision added to the omnibus bill by the House GOP prevents enforcement of the guidelines in 2014, if following them would prevent access to power in very poor nations or prevent increased U.S. exports. But the original guidelines already included language allowing for coal investment in poor countries under certain circumstances. (The GOP rider also adds to the list of countries that could qualify under the exemption.) And even without the new guidelines, OPIC has not invested in coal power in years, and Ex-Im recently turned down a coal investment in Vietnam.

Stay of execution for incandescent lightbulbs. For a while now, Republicans have been gunning for new Department of Energy efficiency rules for lightbulbs that would effectively weed most incandescents out of the market. With the omnibus budget, they successfully inserted a rider that would prevent any funding from going to enforcement of the regulation.

Finishing (partially) the Yucca Mountain review. The proposed storage site for the nation’s nuclear waste has been in limbo for years, thanks to budget snafus and political infighting. Then in August of 2013, a U.S. appeals court decided the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is legally obligated to finish the application process, and give Yucca Mountain a final yes or no answer. The omnibus budget ensures funding is present for the safety evaluation and can’t be rescinded, though NRC has said the amount is not enough to finish the full review.

Finally, it’s worth noting a few things that didn’t make it into the budget: a House GOP rider that would’ve prohibited enforcement of the EPA’s proposed regulations on carbon emissions from power plants, for one thing, and another Republican provision that would’ve weakened protections in the Clean Water Act.

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