An amendment to bring proposed 2012 funding for ARPA-E, the blue-sky research arm of the Department of Energy, up to the current year level of $180 million passed the House today by a vote of 214-213. That level is far lower than the $550 million that the Obama Administration requested. But it does suggest that the likely worst-case scenario for the agency is a flat budget next year, as the Democratic-controlled Senate, which takes up the legislation next, generally supports increases for energy research. The amendment added $80 million to the $100 million approved by the House appropriations panel.
Meanwhile, a number of amendments in the House of Representatives sought to cut the renewable energy and energy efficiency research program at the Department of Energy, but they all failed. So, too, did a number of proposals to boost research into renewables or fossil fuel energy. An amendment to add $10 million to the solar energy research program passed, however, by a close vote of 212-210. The appropriations committee draft that came to the floor had called for $163 million for solar research, which if passed into law would mean a $97 million cut below the current year level. (The Administration has requested $433 million for solar energy research in 2011.) One hundred seventy-nine Democrats and 33 Republicans supported the amendment to set the level at $173 million.
“There is a small majority in the House that continues to support these programs,” said Nathan Facey, deputy chief of staff to Representative Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), who sponsored the solar energy amendment. Facey acknowledged that the increase wasn’t going to bring the House plan for the program up to the level of the current year but called it a significant “vote of confidence in the program.”