Monday, December 21, 2015

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House Overwhelmingly Passes FY2016 Omnibus Appropriations – Big Wins for Idaho

Washington- Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson today applauded the passage of H.R. 2029, the Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations bill that included many important provisions for Idaho and Western States. The House passed H.R. 2029 by a vote of 316-113, and it will be considered by the U.S. Senate today.  Links to the bill text and reports can be found here:https://rules.house.gov/bill/114/hr-2029-sa.

“I applaud Chairman Rogers and Speaker Ryan for their hard work in assembling this comprehensive and responsible package that will keep the government open through the rest of this fiscal year,” said Simpson.  “This bill contains many critical wins for Idaho and Western States.  It avoids the inefficient and negligent practice of funding the government through continuing resolutions, and is instead the product of this past year’s worth of thoughtful deliberation and line-by-line analysis of our budget.  It will make vital investments in our national economy, all while adhering to budget caps that are $56 billion below the Ryan budget for FY16 and $70 billion below the Ryan budget for FY17.  With all of the provisions that support conservative priorities and Idaho specifically, and I am so pleased to see that it passed the House with overwhelming support.”

As Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development and Vice Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment, Simpson had a key role in deciding funding levels for Department of Energy and Department of Interior programs, including the following highlights:  

Energy and Water Development

“The Energy and Water division of the omnibus continues to support accelerating nuclear innovation programs and addressing much needed infrastructure enhancements at the Idaho National Laboratory,” said Chairman Mike Simpson.  “INL plays a vital national and international role in leading the development of new nuclear technologies, and this bill will help maintain and expand that role in the future.  We are so lucky to have this world class facility in our backyard, with a workforce that constantly pushes the bound of scientific research; we must ensure its capabilities are protected and maximized.”

The FY 2016 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill sets funding for the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy at $986 million, an increase of $73 million above fiscal year 2015 and $79 million above the President’s request.  Nuclear energy research and development programs that receive funding within the overall $986 million allocation include:

·         The Idaho Facilities Management account, which covers infrastructure maintenance and improvement at INL, is funded at $222.5 million – an increase of $16.5 million above FY15, and $11 million above the President’s request.  
·         INL’s Safeguards and Security Program is funded at $126.1 million – an increase of $22.1 million over fiscal year 2015.
·         The Nuclear Energy Enabling Technologies program is funded at $111.6 million – an increase of $10.6 million above fiscal year 2015 and $25 million above the President’s request. 
·         Small Modular Reactor Licensing Support Programs are funded at $62.5 million–$8 million above fiscal year 2015.  This funding is slated for NuScale Power’s Small Modular Reactor which is proposed for construction in Idaho.
·         The Light Water Reactor Sustainability program, which is managed by INL and promotes the continued safe operation of America’s existing nuclear reactors, is funded at $40 million.
·         The Reactor Concepts Research, Development, and Demonstration account is funded at $141.7 million – an increase of $8.7 million above fiscal year 2015, and $33.5 million above the President’s request. Within the overall $141.7 million level for this account, $33 million is allocated to fuel qualification for the High Temperature Gas Reactor.
·         Within the Fuel Cycle Research and Development program, the Advanced Fuels program is funded at $62.1 million—a $2 million increase from fiscal year 2015; and Used Nuclear Fuel Disposition research and development is funded at $85 million.
·         Within the Office of Naval Reactors, the bill includes $77.2 million for the operation of the Advanced Test Reactor to accelerate planned safety-related infrastructure upgrades, and $86 million is included for the Spent Fuel Handling Recapitalization Project.
·         Within the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, the bill includes $5 million for the development of an Electric Grid Test Bed program to enhance existing full-scale electric grid testing capabilities like those at Idaho National Laboratory.
·         Within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, $7 million is included to continue performance testing and life cycle diagnostic assessment activities that validate and verify advanced battery performance.

The bill also provides $396 million for cleanup activities associated with the Idaho Cleanup Project and the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project co-located on the Idaho desert with INL.  The funding level of $396 million is an increase of $16.5 million above fiscal year 2015 and $36 million above the President’s request, which will allow the significant cleanup activities currently underway to continue. The bill also includes an additional $2 million for the National Spent Fuel Program, putting the unique expertise of INL to work in order to provide solutions for managing the Department of Energy’s inventories of spent nuclear fuel.  Finally, the bill includes $2 million for dynamic threat assessments at Idaho National Laboratory to create innovative assessment tools for the US government on high consequence threats to the electric grid, oil and gas, and nuclear energy sectors. 

Transportation, Housing and Urban Development

“I am so pleased to see the important language allowing trucks weighing up to 129,000 pounds on Idaho interstates included in the omnibus,” said Simpson.  “This change has long been sought by the State of Idaho because it will remove the competitive disadvantage the state currently faces, and will be a major generator of economic activity in Idaho.  By ensuring that Idaho’s vehicle laws match those of its neighboring states, Idaho can more efficiently play a larger role in transferring goods without impacting road safety.”

The increase to 129,000 pounds from the current allowance of 105,500 pounds will put Idaho in line with neighboring states and with Idaho’s state highways, which currently allow trucks up to 129,000 pounds.   The current weight limit has made it difficult for Idaho producers to ship goods to, from, and through the state.  A higher weight limit means trucks will have more axles than traditional trucks, distributing the weight in such a way that there is less weight on each axle than a standard truck.  It also will reduce the number of trucks on the road. 

Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee

"This bill makes a critical and significant investment in preventing and fighting wildfires," said Simpson.  "This year's fire season was so terrible that the Forest Service and DOI had already gone half a billion dollars over budget by mid-August and ultimately had to transfer $700 million from other non-fire accounts in order to keep putting out fires.  This bill provides $4.2 billion for wildfire suppression and prevention programs, which includes $1 billion in firefighting reserve funds.  As the cost of fighting wildfires increases, this increased funding will provide the agencies with the resources they need to respond to wildfires without decimating forest management accounts in the process.  The bill also includes important funding for hazardous fuels activities and timber management accounts, which will give the Forest Service tools to improve forest health and ultimately reduce the impact of wildfires.

"Fire borrowing remains a problem, and I am disappointed that, in spite of a significant bipartisan effort, my language to fix the wildfire budgeting process was not included in the omnibus.  I am hopeful, however, that this increased funding will address the issue for the coming fiscal year, giving us an opportunity to push a long-term solution like the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act across the finish line."

In addition to providing $4.2 billion for wildfire programs, the Interior portion of the bill:

·         Includes full funding of the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program, which compensates counties for the losses in property tax as a result of a high percentage of federal land.  Idaho counties received $28,609,614 in PILT funding for FY15. 
·         Provides $545 million for hazardous fuels reduction activities—a $19 million increase over FY15, and $360 million for the timber program—a $21 million increase of FY15.
·         Cuts EPA funding by $452 million below the President’s budget request, holding the agency’s budget at 21% below FY10 levels.
·         Provides $1 million to compensate ranchers for livestock killed by wolves.
·         Continues language making litigation costs more transparent and extending requirements that litigants exhaust administrative review before litigating grazing issues in Federal court.
·         Includes a 3-year extension of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, with 50% of program funding going to state and local recreation, conservation, and battlefield protection programs.

Agriculture

“I am very pleased the omnibus includes language that maintains the mission at Dubois,” said Simpson. “Because of its location, and expertise, the Dubois staff are working on unique issues, including research on the domestic-wildlife interface that is vital to the sheep industry’s future.”

·         Includes language that preserves Agricultural Research Service (ARS) research programs which includes the U.S. Sheep Experimental Station (USSES) in Dubois, Idaho. The administration attempted to close the facility in 2014 without notifying Congress. 

Defense

“By ensuring the A-10 remains available for close air support, we are responding to the needs of the service members that operate them and to the brave men and women on the ground that rely on them,” said Simpson. “While I certainly acknowledge that the Air Force must make difficult decisions in this time of reduced budgets, the A-10’s low operating costs and unique capabilities merit our continued support until an appropriate replacement can be identified.”

·         Denies the administration’s request to retire the A-10 Thunderbolt II which is based at the headquarters for the Idaho National Guard at Gowen Field in Boise and provides funding to keep them flying in FY16.
·         Provides a 1.3% pay raise for over 1.3 million active-duty troops and nearly 811,000 reserves.


Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations

“Following the recent passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization, it is important that we match appropriate funding levels so these programs can succeed,” said Simpson. “Impact Aid is important to the counties and school districts that are impacted by federal activities and I’m glad this bill honors that responsibility.”

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