October 16, 2009

Energy and water bill advancing in US Senate

On Thursday, the US Senate approved a bill to basically freeze spending on energy and water projects next year after pouring tens of billions of dollars into them as part of last winter's economic stimulus plan.  The 80-17 vote on the compromise House-Senate plan cleared the measure for President Obama's signature. The bill is just the third of 12 annual spending bills to clear Congress for the 2010 budget year that began Oct. 1.

The popular $33.5 billion measure funds renewable energy research, Army Corps of Engineers water projects, nuclear weapons safety and security and environmental cleanup. That's more than the $33.3 billion a year earlier and less than the $34.4 billion the White House requested.

The energy and water bill provides a small increase over current spending. That makes it unique among the current set of domestic appropriations bills, which would mostly deliver spending increases well in excess of inflation. The relatively small increase was made easier by the more than $40 billion in spending for energy programs and water infrastructure that was delivered in Obama's February stimulus bill.

Energy efficiency programs covering solar energy, vehicle technology and biofuels are in line for a $314 million boost, to $2.2 billion. Programs to modernize and secure the nation's electricity grid would get $172 million, an increase of $35 million. Army Corps flood protection and other construction projects would receive $2 billion, $313 million more than the White House sought.

The measure also fulfills a campaign promise by Obama to close the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste facility in Nevada. The move would leave the country without a long-term solution for storing highly radioactive waste from nuclear power plants, and could help to further encourage policy makers to focus more on renewable sources of energy.

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