House OKs Hanford budget proposal

Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldJuly 11, 2014 

A proposed budget for Hanford next year that would slightly increase spending above the Obama administration's request passed the House on Thursday night. But the budget still is far from becoming law.

The Senate has yet to make public its Department of Energy budget proposal that would cover Hanford in fiscal 2015, after a bipartisan disagreement in June about environmental regulation amendments.

The White House has threatened a presidential veto of the final version of the bill if it includes many of the provisions passed in the House bill.

Among its objections are continued funding for the Yucca Mountain, Nev., national repository for used commercial nuclear fuel and some weapons program waste, including high-level radioactive waste glassified at Hanford's vitrification plant.

A proposed amendment by Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., to remove a section of the bill that would prohibit money from being spent to close Yucca Mountain failed on a vote of 96 to 326.

The vote put the House on record once again as supporting Yucca Mountain as a national repository, said staff of Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash.

The administration veto threat also covered the House bill's financial support of continued construction of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MOX) at Savannah River, S.C., which remained in the final version of the bill.

The administration is concerned about rising costs of the plant. But if it is not built to convert surplus plutonium into fuel for commercial power reactors, there is a possibility that some plutonium would be returned to Hanford, said Gary Petersen, vice president of Hanford programs for the Tri-City Development Council.

Provisions on Yucca Mountain and MOX in the bill are key to Hanford cleanup success, along with the restoration of a portion of the administration's proposed cut to certain Hanford funding, Hastings said on the floor of the House.

The House bill would restore $25 million of the approximately $100 million the administration proposed to be cut from the DOE Richland Operations Office spending. The office is responsible for all Hanford environmental cleanup except 56 million gallons of radioactive waste held in underground tanks and the vitrification plant being built to treat the waste.

"Richland Operations Office is responsible for many critical cleanup project, and legal commitments and progress there has largely been a success," Hastings said.

Most cleanup along the Columbia River is nearing completion and that will save taxpayers $250 million, he said.

The House budget for the Hanford Office of River Protection would cut the administration's proposed spending by $23 million for an overall Hanford budget of just less than $2.1 billion, not including spending for security.

Hastings is hopeful that DOE and the state can reach agreement on "an achievable and fundable path forward" for the vitrification plant, he said.

Negotiations are under way as DOE is at risk of missing the remaining deadlines for building and operating the plant in a court-enforced consent decree.

Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, the chairman of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, said he was pleased to support funding for cleanup along the Columbia River and is hopeful that DOE will soon provide details about the vitrification plant.

"(It) is a critical project -- but Congress needs more answers and great transparency," Simpson said.

Simpson told Hastings he would work with him to make sure adequate funding is available if an agreement on the path forward for the vit plant is reached.

Hastings' leadership on Hanford issues will be sorely missed, Simpson said. Hastings is not running for re-election.

Although the Senate has not moved forward on its appropriations bill that would include the Hanford budget, Petersen said the House and Senate are each motivated to pass a budget before the November elections.

The House bill passed 235 to 170, with 35 Democrats joining Republicans to support it.

Tri-City Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service