By Michael Mariotte


President Obama’s FY 2016 budget proposal released this week isn’t going to be adopted as is, that’s pretty obvious considering he’s facing a Congress that, if he suggested repealing Obamacare, probably would vote against it just because it was his proposal.

But that’s on the big stuff–taxes, infrastructure, health care. When it comes down to the small stuff, like energy, Obama’s proposals often do get changed, but the changes usually are one of emphasis rather than approach.

Maybe that’s because the Administration makes a point in its energy budget proposals to include something for everyone on the Hill. That, to my mind, is probably the guiding rationale behind the “all of the above” energy policy Obama’s energy department has pursued, rather than a real belief that it makes any economic or environmental sense at all to support all possible energy sources. It’s a lot easier to get what you want funded if you make sure your opponents are getting what they want too.

In any case, once again Obama’s proposed energy budget takes the “all of the above” approach. And it’s just as delusional as ever. Of course, given that the current Congress has an awful lot of members who would just as soon shut down renewable energy programs and put all the nation’s energy money into more nuclear and coal, maybe it does make a certain amount of political sense. What it doesn’t make is any sense from an energy perspective.

Obama actually proposes a very small cut–less than one percent–to the nation’s nuclear energy budget for a total request of $907,574,000, down from $913.5 million being spent this year. The programmatic cut looks like an increase in the budget because DOE wants to use $81 million in unspent money from last year on programs approved then.

The most significant, and welcome, cut is in DOE support for advanced reactor and reactor life extension programs, which go from $133 million to $108.4 million.

The small modular reactor program, on the other hand, would get an $8 million increase, from $54.5 million to $62.5 million.

The DOE’s nuclear loan program continues to exist, of course, with its $12 billion or so in unspent money. DOE has not said yet whether anyone has yet applied for any new nuclear loans. So far, only Southern Company has received any such loan money, for construction of its Vogtle reactors. Considering the frequently-announced delays and cost overruns in that project, it can hardly be said that the program is working as intended. DOE would do well to end that program now, before further embarrassment–but don’t count out DOE’s ability to enjoy looking like clowns.

On the radioactive waste end of the spectrum, Yucca Mountain would continue to get no money at all in the Obama budget. The president appears intent on keeping his 2009 commitment to end that program, although, at least on the House side of Capitol Hill, there is considerable noise about trying to revive Yucca Mountain this year.

Somewhat oddly, New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, which suffered a serious accident a year ago, would get a big budget cut from last year–with $76 million being chopped from its overall budget. But that’s still more than it got two years ago–when it was operating. DOE admits it doesn’t know when WIPP may be operating again, but it certainly won’t be next year. $87 million is being requested for the ongoing clean-up effort–which won’t be enough to do the job (and pay all the fines associated with the accident).

And indeed, cleaning up the mess left behind by the nation’s now seven decades of nuclear weapons production remains hopelessly behind. The current DOE estimate for the clean-up job ahead is $343 billion. The FY 2016 budget request is for $5.8 billion.

Over on the non-nuclear energy side of the budget, things look a little better. Obama proposes a 42.3% increase in the renewable energy budget, from $1.9 billion to $2.7 billion and a whopping 84% increase in “electricity delivery and energy reliability, from $147 million to $270 million. Whether Congress will approve those increases is highly debatable.

Fossil fuels, on paper, receive a 6.4% budget increase, but all of that is due to increases in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and the Northeast Home Heating Oil Reserve. Money for “clean coal” technology is again zeroed out, although there is $6.6 million in unspent money in that fund. Fossil fuel research is set at $560 million, a tiny decrease from the $560,587,000 from last year’s budget.

As always, the vast majority of DOE’s budget is for nuclear weapons and maintaining the nation’s nuclear weapons infrastructure. Sometimes, it seems, energy is simply a postscript to the agency’s main responsibility as a civilian arm of the Pentagon.

If you’re really bored, you can read all of the DOE’s budget documents here.

Michael Mariotte

February 4, 2015


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Filed under: Inside Washington Tagged: DOE budget, nuclear weapons, renewable energy, Yucca Mountain

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