The House on Wednesday moved to reign in spending to clean up the Hanford Nuclear Reservation and other Department of Energy sites and approved legislation cutting $742 million from DOE’s environmental restoration program.
Department officials have estimated about one-fourth of the reduction - $184 million - would come out of the proposed budget for Hanford cleanup during the next fiscal year. Republicans have insisted the cuts were targeted at DOE headquarters and funds the department has yet to spend.
The department’s estimates and a letter Thomas Grumbly, DOE’s assistant secretary for cleanup, sent to the chairman of a key Senate subcommittee decrying the House cuts, have infuriated some House members.
Republican Rep. Richard “Doc” Hastings, whose district includes Hanford, said the report accompanying the bill specifically identifies where the cuts would come from.
“It’s clear about where the reductions should take place - cuts in headquarters and uncosted balances,” Hastings said. “The department’s statements on cuts at Hanford are just dead wrong.”
But lawmakers signaled the years of explosive growth in the department’s cleanup budget were over.
In language accompanying the measure, the House said fiscal year 1996 is the first in which annual funding is expected to be severely constrained.
Also included in the $18.7-billion energy and water appropriations bill was about $40 million to continue construction on the Environmental and Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL) and $15 million to begin construction on the Hazardous Materials Management and Emergency Response (HAMMER) training center.
The funding for EMSL was about $10 million less than President Clinton had requested. A Texas lawmaker, Democrat Lloyd Doggett, backed off at the last minute from offering an amendment that would have stripped all funding for EMSL.
Hastings and Washington Democratic Rep. Norm Dicks convinced Doggett not to offer the amendment. Administration officials also let Doggett know they opposed his amendment.
In a move that could eventually have implications for Hanford, the bill also took aim at the troubled effort to construct a long-term repository for civilian and defense radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain.
The House bill conceded that funding to aggressively pursue the Yucca Mountain facility would be insufficient and directed the department to “downgrade, suspend or terminate” its activities there.
In addition, the department was told to “concentrate available resources on the development and implementation of a national interim storage plan.”
Hanford has been mentioned as a possible site for an interim storage facility, known as multiple retrievable storage. The House bill made no mention of a specific site for an interim facility. Those who have mentioned Hanford include Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
One other casualty of the legislation will be about $2.1 million for Hanford economic transition programs, though that could be over-turned in the Senate.
The bill was approved on a 400-27 vote and sent to the Senate. The Senate energy and water appropriations subcommittee could consider it as soon as next week.