An Idaho congressman considered a friend to Hanford was named Wednesday to lead a House committee that is key to the Hanford nuclear reservation's budget.
Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, is the new chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, which funds Department of Energy projects. Changes in House Appropriations Committee leadership were made because of the death of Rep. C.W. Bill Young and the retirement of Rep. Rodney Alexander.
It is the first time Pam Larsen, executive director of Hanford Communities, could remember a chairman of the important subcommittee coming from an "energy community," she said.
"He understands Hanford and the challenges we're facing," she said.
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Simpson's district includes the DOE's Idaho Cleanup Project, where many environmental remediation tasks are similar to work at Hanford, including managing radioactive tank waste, storing used nuclear fuel, retrieving buried radioactive waste and deactivating buildings and equipment.
Simpson is one of only two Northwest representatives serving on the House Appropriations Committee after the retirement of Rep. Norm Dicks, R-Idaho. The other is Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash.
Hastings has escorted both on visits to Hanford, with Simpson touring the nuclear reservation in 2006. He also has toured Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland.
"Mike Simpson is both a friend and a longtime champion for the Pacific Northwest, whether it's cleanup at Hanford and Idaho, nuclear power, BPA (Bonneville Power Administration) or a host of other critical issues," Hastings said in a statement.
Simpson has been equal-handed when it comes to the DOE environmental management budget, which pays for work at Hanford, Idaho and other DOE cleanup sites, and understands where the public risk is in cleanup projects, said Gary Petersen, vice president of Hanford programs for the Tri-City Development Council.
Two years ago Simpson was willing to hold off budget increases for the Idaho site because he knew Hanford's needs were more critical, Petersen said.
Simpson steps into the leadership position on DOE funding as Hanford spending is at reduced levels because of Congress's failure to pass a detailed budget.
Among projects where spending is down is the Hanford tank farms, where work is under way to remove millions of gallons of radioactive waste from leak-prone underground tanks and to prepare the infrastructure to feed that waste to the vitrification plant for eventual treatment.
Administration had proposed a budget of $520 million for the Hanford tank farms this year, which is up from the budget of $455 million at the end of last year. Under the current continuing resolution in lieu of a budget, annual spending at the tank farms has dropped to $409 million.
Simpson replaces Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., as chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development as Frelinghuysen takes over leadership of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.
-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; email@example.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews
Editor's note: Corrected to fix Mike Simpson's title.