he House Energy and Water Development Subcommittee of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee has released an initial draft of an appropriations bill that will have important implications for the Idaho National Laboratory.
Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, is the subcommittee’s chairman.
“This is a responsible bill … that makes some difficult choices in order to prioritize the most critical federal programs,” Simpson said, according to Science Magazine. “Like the president, we want to ensure the best use of each and every tax dollar.”
The appropriations bill is still in its initial stages, and it has a long way to go before becoming law, including many opportunities for amendment. But it paints an emerging picture of the House’s vision for the Department of Energy, including many important differences from the vision outlined by President Donald Trump.
Overall, the current draft likely still would mean cuts for INL – many quite significant – but they would be less aggressive than those proposed by the White House.
The draft appropriations bill doesn’t spell out how the funds would be spent in as fine of detail as Trump’s proposed budget, instead focusing on setting spending levels for offices within the Department of Energy. That means there aren’t specific figures for accounts such as the Idaho Facilities Management line item, the primary source of funding for maintaining the physical plant and equipment at INL. Trump had proposed a 10 percent cut for that account, reducing it from $227 million to $204 million.
Instead, the House bill contains top-level figures for the Office of Nuclear Energy, for example, from which the facilities management budget draws its funds.
The total budget for the Office of Nuclear Energy is set at $969 million, slightly below the $1 billion budget that former lab director John Grossenbacher previously said represents the minimum adequate funding level for the agency. That’s about a 38 percent increase relative to the $703 million in Trump’s budget, but down about 14 percent relative to current spending authority of $1.1 billion.
Trump’s budget called for steep cuts to basic research programs across the board, including research on energy, biological and environmental science, high-energy physics and nuclear physics. Overall, his budget would have taken Department of Energy basic research funding from $5.3 billion to $4.5 billion. The House bill, by contrast, increases the level of funding to $5.4 billion.
For cleanup of defense-related nuclear waste, the appropriations bill would set aside $5.4 billion. That’s less than the $5.5 billion set aside in Trump’s budget but more than the $5.3 billion level of current funding. Trump had proposed to send $350 million of that to Idaho, down from $395 million this year. The appropriations bill doesn’t specify how much would be sent to the various cleanup sites around the country.
The appropriations bill also eliminates the Advanced Research Project-Energy, which Trump also had proposed, and it earmarks $82.5 million for the Advanced Test Reactor.
Simpson could not be reached for comment on the measure.