A Republican plan to cut $742 million from the Department of Energy’s cleanup budget picked up additional support Tuesday, this time from a key House appropriations subcommittee.
The House energy and water development appropriations subcommittee approved an $18.7 billion bill, which also includes $40 million for continued development of the Environmental and Molecular Sciences Laboratory at the Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington state.
The subcommittee’s action came as the full House debated the defense authorization bill. That bill also includes a $742 billion cut in DOE cleanup funds.
The defense authorization bill and the measure passed by the subcommittee are apparently similar in the details of the cleanup cuts, though a copy of the subcommittee’s legislation was not immediately available.
Each bill would provide almost $5.26 billion for DOE cleanup, compared with the more than $6 billion requested by the Clinton administration.
The defense authorization bill would trim $367 million from the headquarters costs of managing the cleanup program and $365 million in funds that have not yet been spent by DOE.
Republicans have been highly critical of the $2 billion in unspent cleanup funds, likening them to a “slush fund.” But Energy Department officials insist it represents money still owed to contractors or involves projects for which permits and licenses are still pending.
Overall, the subcommittee approved a DOE budget for the next fiscal year of $14.8 billion, $1.9 billion or 11 percent less than the Clinton administration request.
Language accompanying the subcommittee’s bill directs DOE to downgrade site characterization at the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada in order to develop an interim storage program for high level commercial and defense radioactive waste.
The nation’s permanent repository for the waste was to be built at Yucca Mountain.
The $40 million in funding for EMSL approved by the appropriations subcommittee was $10 million less than requested by the administration, but officials for Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratory, which will operate EMSL, have said it will be enough to keep the project on track.