December 18, 2015
Capitol Update

Editor’s Note: Capitol Update will not be published on December 25th or January 1st. Publication will resume on January 8, 2016. In the interim, all best wishes to a most happy and enjoyable holiday season!

In this issue:


OMNIBUS APPROPRIATIONS AGREEMENT REACHED

Congressional leaders reached agreement this week on a fiscal year 2016 omnibus appropriations bill totaling $1.15 trillion in discretionary spending. The bill funds the government through September 30, 2016, and includes $1,067 billion in base funding; $73.7 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations; $7.1 billion of disaster aid; $1.5 billion for program integrity; and $700 million in emergency funding. This level of funding reflects the increased domestic discretionary funding provided by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, which was enacted on November 2. The bill also includes a number of policy riders, including the lifting of the ban on U.S. oil exports.

Major R&D agencies supported by the bill include:

  • Department of Energy. The bill provides $11 billion for energy programs within the DOE – a $794 million increase above the fiscal year 2015 enacted level but $528 million below the President’s request. The DOE Office of Science, which conducts most of DOE’s basic scientific research, totaled $5.35 billion, $279 million above the 2015 enacted level. The bill also includes $2.0 billion for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy programs ($137 million increase); $206 million for Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability ($59 million increase); $986 million for Nuclear Energy ($72.5 million increase); $632 million for Fossil Energy R&D programs ($61 million increase); and $291 million for ARPA-E ($11 million increase over 2015). Notably, the bill rejects the Administration’s proposal to significantly cute fusion energy research, and includes $323 million in funding for the program.
  • National Science Foundation. The National Science Foundation (NSF) is funded at $7.46 billion, $119 million more than the fiscal year 2015 level. This funding includes $6.03 billion for NSF’s research and development facilities to support today’s scientists, engineers and technicians, and $880 million for NSF’s education and training programs to build tomorrow’s innovation workforce. The bill does not include any restrictions to Geosciences funding, and funds Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences at the fiscal year 2015 level.
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology. The bill provides an additional $100 million to the fiscal year 2015 level, for a total of $964 million, for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), including $25 million for the new National Network of Manufacturing Institutes, which was authorized in the fiscal year 2015 omnibus appropriations bill. NIST research and grant programs develop measurements and standards for private sector innovation, help aspiring start-up companies commercialize new technologies, and provide technical and workforce development support to American manufacturers.
  • NASA. This bill provides $19.3 billion for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) which is $1.3 billion more than the fiscal year 2015 enacted level and $756 million more than the President’s requested level. The bill supports key priorities like commercial crew transportation for astronauts to the International Space Station, Earth Science, satellite servicing, NASA’s next missions beyond low-Earth orbit and the James Webb Space Telescope to keep the United States first in astronomy.
  • Department of Defense: $69.8 billion for DOD research, development, testing and evaluation of new defense technologies. The bill includes $13.2 billion for DOD basic research activities, an 8.2 percent increase over FY 2015.
  • EPA. $8.1 billion for the EPA, including $734 million for environmental research activities, the same level as last year.

The full text of the bill is available at: http://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20151214/CPRT-114-HPRT-RU00-SAHR2029-AMNT1final.pdf

In addition to lifting the ban on U.S. oil exports, the bill includes a number of other significant policy riders. Also included were

  • A provision restricting the application of the Clean Water Act in certain agricultural areas, including farm ponds and irrigation ditches.
  • A continuation of prior-year funding for Yucca Mountain to maintain its viability for future use.
  • Exemptions from greenhouse gas regulations for livestock producers.

Additional summary material is available at: http://appropriations.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=394337


TAX EXTENDERS AGREEMENT INCLUDES R&D AND ENERGY PROVISIONS

The Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee have announced a bipartisan, bicameral deal on legislation addressing a host of expired tax provisions important to innovation. The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015 is a culmination of recent work done in both chambers of Congress and renews and makes permanent important tax incentives that support both individuals and job creators, particularly in the renewable energy space.

Importantly, the bill permanently extends the research and development (R&D) tax credit, a major objective of many in the innovation community. In addition to make the benefit permanent, beginning in 2016 eligible small businesses ($50 million or less in gross receipts) may claim the credit against 3 alternative minimum tax (AMT) liability, and the credit can be utilized by certain small businesses against the employer’s payroll tax (i.e., FICA) liability.

Other R&D and energy related highlights of the bill include:

  • Extension and modification of credits with respect to facilities producing energy from certain renewable resources. The provision extends the production tax credit for certain renewable sources of electricity to facilities for which construction has commenced by the end of 2016.
  • Extension of excise tax credits relating to alternative fuels; extends through 2016 the 50 cents per gallon alternative fuel tax credit and alternative fuel mixture tax credit.
  • Extension of second generation biofuel producer credit; extends through 2016 the credit for cellulosic biofuels producers.
  • Extension of biodiesel and renewable diesel incentives. The provision extends through 2016 the existing $1.00 per gallon tax credit for biodiesel and biodiesel mixtures, and the small agri-biodiesel producer credit of 10 cents per gallon. The provision also extends through 2016 the $1.00 per gallon production tax credit for diesel fuel created from biomass. The provision extends through 2016 the fuel excise tax credit for biodiesel mixtures.
  • Extension of credit for energy-efficient new homes. The provision extends through 2016 the tax credit for manufacturers of energy-efficient residential homes. An eligible contractor may claim a tax credit of $1,000 or $2,000 for the construction or manufacture of a new energy efficient home that meets qualifying criteria.


DOE ANNOUNCES 12 NEW PROJECTS TO ACCELERATE TECHNOLOGIES THAT IMPROVE THE EFFICIENCY AND RELIABILITY OF THE U.S. ELECTRIC GRID

The Energy Department’s (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) recently announced $33 million in funding for 12 innovative projects as part of ARPA-E’s Network Optimized Distributed Energy Systems (NODES) program. NODES project teams will develop technologies that coordinate load and generation on the electric grid to create a virtual energy storage system.

The teams will develop innovative hardware and software solutions to integrate and coordinate generation, transmission, and end-use energy systems at various points on the electric grid. These control systems will enable real-time coordination between distributed generation, such as rooftop and community solar assets and bulk power generation, while proactively shaping electric load. This will alleviate periods of costly peak demand, reduce wasted energy, and increase renewables penetration on the grid.

The NODES program aims to create a new approach to management of the two-way flow of power to and from homes and businesses that consume and deliver electricity back to the grid. The resulting virtual energy storage will manage the intermittency of renewable energy, the lack of electricity production when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing. The expected benefits of these technologies include improving grid efficiency, reducing CO2 emissions in power generation, and significant savings of system costs.

The increasing use of renewable generation and Distributed Energy Resources (DERs), such as residential solar and home energy storage, along with customers’ changing energy use patterns is leading to greater uncertainty and variability in the electric grid. NODES project teams will address these challenges in grid operation through system-wide control and coordination of DERs and flexible load. These technologies will seek to improve the overall efficiency and reliability of the U.S. electric grid while retaining customers’ quality of service. The goal of the program is to enable more than 50% usage of renewable power on the grid.

Details on all 12 of the NODES projects may be found at http://arpa-e.energy.gov/sites/default/files/documents/files/NODES_Project_Descriptions.pdf


CONGRESSWOMEN APPLAUD STUDY ON GENDER DISCRIMINATION IN STEM RESEARCH, CALL ON FEDERAL AGENCIES TO ADDRESS BIAS

With the recent release of a study that found gender bias in federal STEM research, Congresswomen Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) called on agencies to take immediate action to ensure gender equality in publically funded research. The year-long study, which the Congresswomen requested in 2013 from the independent Government Accountability Office (GAO), found that federal agencies are not doing their part to identify and address possible gender bias in federal research projects in the STEM fields.

The GAO study found deficiencies at six federal agencies which collectively award 90 percent of the nearly $25 billion in federal STEM grants awarded annually. The deficient agencies are the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Department of Defense (DOD), Department of Energy (DOE), NASA, National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The congresswomen called on all six of the federal agencies to implement the GAO’s recommendation in order to adhere to federal internal control standards for funding research. This would institute data collection procedures throughout the life cycle of a grant, from a scientist’s first contact with an agency through the award of successful grant applications and completion of the funded studies. Without this information, agencies cannot appropriately be held accountable for instituting a grant award process free of gender bias.

Furthermore, the study found that two of the three agencies responsible for $17.1 billion of federal STEM funding—NIH and DOD—fail to conduct legally required Title IX compliance reviews to ensure the universities they fund are addressing gender bias within their research programs. In response to these particular findings, the congresswomen wrote to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the NIH, and the Secretary of the Department of Defense, demanding that the agencies immediately follow the law and begin Title IX compliance reviews. They also requested that the Attorney General revive an interagency task force focused on Title IX gender discrimination issues to better coordinate efforts among the federal agencies involved in STEM grant-making. The congresswomen will be requesting briefings with DOE and NASA to discuss plans to improve their data collection systems to allow for a more complete study of possible gender discrimination at the agencies to be completed.

The GAO report may be read at http://louise.house.gov/sites/slaughter.house.gov/files/2015-12-14%20GAO%20Report%20-%20Women%20in%20STEM%20Research.pdf

For additional information, visit https://louise.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/congresswomen-applaud-study-gender-discrimination-stem-research-call


PARIS AGREEMENT ON CLIMATE CHANGE APPROVED

On December 12th, more than 190 countries came together to adopt the most ambitious climate change agreement in history. The Paris Agreement establishes a long term, durable global framework to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. For the first time, all countries commit to putting forward successive and ambitious, nationally determined climate targets and reporting on their progress towards them using a rigorous, standardized process of review.

The Agreement provides strong assurance to developing countries that they will be supported as they pursue clean and climate resilient growth.  The deal builds on the unprecedented participation of 187 countries that submitted post-2020 climate action targets in advance of the meeting, and establishes a framework to ratchet up ambition by driving down global emissions in the decades to come.

This new global framework lays the foundation for countries to work together to put the world on a path to keeping global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius and sets an ambitious vision to go even farther than that. This Agreement sends a strong signal to the private sector that the global economy is moving towards clean energy, and that through innovation and ingenuity, we can achieve our climate objectives while creating new jobs, raising standards of living and lifting millions out of poverty.

The Paris Agreement is also the culmination of a broader effort by nations, businesses, cities, and citizens to reorient the global economy to a path of low-carbon growth – progress that will accelerate as a result of the Agreement’s provisions on mitigation ambition, transparency, and climate finance.

Additional information is available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/12/12/us-leadership-and-historic-paris-agreement-combat-climate-change

Political comments on the Paris Agreement may be viewed at the following links:

 

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