DOE should not shuffle Hanford's cleanup funds

March 29, 2013 

Reprogramming. Sequestration. Bureaucracy.

What do these words have in common, other than tedium? They all could cause serious damage to the Mid-Columbia economy.

The U.S. Congress is expecting a "reprogramming package" from the Department of Energy that would outline where DOE plans to spend its environmental cleanup money for the rest of the fiscal year.

The exercise is expected to move money among programs and does not require congressional approval.

The big worry for the Tri-Cities is that money needed to keep Hanford cleanup on track will be shifted to other sites.

Rep. Doc Hastings is trying to keep that from happening. His recent letter to a DOE senior advisor stated that shuffling Hanford funding to other uses "would be met with my strongest opposition."

It's likely to take more than Hastings to preserve Hanford spending. Every member of the Northwest congressional delegation needs to make this reprogramming issue a top priority.

State governments around the Northwest need to weigh-in too.

The well being of the entire region depends on dealing with Hanford's toxic and radioactive mess.

Hanford cleanup already has been struggling with work shutdowns because of technical issues, concerns that more waste may be leaking from tanks and layoffs and furloughs courtesy of sequestration.

In this context, sequestration is a big word for mandatory budget cuts triggered because our elected leaders failed to enact legislation to reduce the budget deficit by a required amount by a required deadline. The cuts affected most federal programs.

So we all suffer the consequences, large and small. From closed campgrounds and the grounding of military flight teams at local air shows to job losses and forced unpaid time off, we're just beginning to see the economic damage caused by sequestration.

At Hanford, 235 workers will be laid off this month and another 2,500 will be forced to take furloughs by October. Our governor was told $171 million would be cut from Hanford spending.

But reprogramming by the DOE would be outside the scope of sequestration and could further affect Hanford workers, depending on the plan. Some could get their jobs back while others who thought they were safe could lose theirs.

It's like shell game with the same kind of unpredictable outcome and what we want, and what Rep. Hastings wants, are answers sooner rather than later.

"The sooner the department makes its reprogramming package available, the sooner workers will have some degree of certainty with regard to their employment status and work scope can be planned," Hastings said in the letter.

Some reprogramming is expected at Hanford, because of issues with the cleanup like the halt of construction at the vit plant's pretreatment facility and the hubbub over the possibility of a small amount of radioactive leakage from storage tanks.

Real estate agents and building contractors tell us sequestration is already having a trickle-down effect on their industries. Our community, more than most others, will feel the effects because of the large number of federal employees and subcontractors.

Moving any additional dollars away from Hanford is not something our community can afford or absorb.

Worse yet, it would further delay cleanup efforts the federal government is morally and legally obligated to complete.

Let's hope the DOE's decisions are prudent and forthcoming.

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