House approves spending for energy-water projects

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The House agreed to essentially 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.

Lawmakers voted 308-114 to provide $33.5 billion in the budget year that started for programs including 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 Senate is expected to take up the measure. If passed, it would be only the second of 12 annual spending bills to reach President Barack Obama's desk.

A day before, the Senate sent the president a measure keeping federal programs running for another month at 2009 spending levels while works continues on the remaining 10 bills covering areas such as defense, homeland security, agriculture and education.

Despite the virtual freeze on energy and water projects, there were some favored programs.

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.

Despite the effort to hold down costs, Republicans complained the price tag was still too high after what they said was $58 billion in emergency spending for these programs in the past year.

"Shoveling billions of taxpayer dollars into the agencies in this bill — essentially doubling the size of their budgets in under two years — will undoubtedly prime the pump for government waste as these bureaucracies struggle to find ways to spend it," said Rep. Jerry Lewis of California, the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee.

Committee Democrats put the energy and water project total from the $787 billion stimulus at $44 billion, minus $2 billion later taken out for the "Cash for Clunkers" car program.

One program that did not fare well was the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada. Long opposed by powerful Nevadans such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the administration has decided to end it. The $197 million for the program, down $92 million from last year, is primarily for looking into future alternatives.


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