Appropriations bills are about money, but sometimes those measures have policy provisions that spark fierce fights. The fiscal 2013 appropriations round, now under way, offers several examples.

On May 31, the House voted 218-198 to delete language in the FY13 military-construction/veterans-affairs spending bill that would have barred agencies from adopting union-only project labor agreements (PLAs). Nearly all House Democrats and 34 Republicans voted for an amendment offered by Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) to strike anti-PLA language from the bill. The House passed the underlying spending measure.

Labor unions hailed the vote as an "unmistakable message … for the right of federal agencies to utilize [PLAs] for their construction procurement needs." Groups such as the Associated Builders & Contractors oppose PLAs.

At ENR press time, the House neared a vote on a $32.1-billion energy and water appropriations bill, which also included controversial provisions. One would block the Energy Dept. from carrying out a 2007 statutory requirement that new and renovated federal buildings phase down the use of energy from fossil fuels. The provision's advocates say the mandate would hamper use of natural gas; the American Institute of Architects and other groups favor keeping the 2007 requirement in place.

Another section of the bill would block the Corps of Engineers from issuing regulatory guidance to clarify the Clean Water Act definition of federally regulated waters. Industry organizations back that language, but environmental groups oppose it.

Companion bills in the Senate do not have the House provisions.