As the Senate Armed Services Committee is set to mark up the fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is emphasizing the importance of environmental cleanup.
She was the lead signer on a letter with eight other senators urging the Senate Armed Services Committee leadership to remember the nation's responsibility toward cleanup at Hanford and other defense sites.
The National Defense Authorization Act sets defense budget priorities, and environmental cleanup poses a tempting account to raid in a bill that deals primarily with the active military.
Fiscal 2013 could be a particularly difficult year because of the looming possibility of sequestration triggered by the failure of a special congressional deficit committee to reach agreement.
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As sequestration stands now, $1.2 trillion would be held back from federal spending to use for deficit reduction during a decade. It is set to cut defense spending, which could include defense cleanup programs like Hanford, up to 10 percent starting Jan. 1, unless Congress finds a way to override it.
Murray is requesting that the authorization bill meet the Obama administration's request of almost $5.5 billion for fiscal 2013.
"We are acutely aware of the budget crisis facing our nation and that funding levels for many federal programs are likely to decrease in FY 2013," the letter said. "While fiscal realities have changed, the federal government's legal and moral obligations to clean up its defense nuclear waste have not."
Authorized funding for defense environmental cleanup is not about new or expanded government, but about meeting legal commitments that the federal government has already made, the letter said.
"While we recognize that the Senate Armed Services Committee will face very difficult choices when it comes to determining authorized funding levels for next year, we believe that a distinction can and should be made between optional government activities and existing legal commitments like the cleanup of nuclear waste created in the service of our nation's security," the letter said.
Hanford is contaminated from the past production of weapons plutonium, and the Department of Energy faces court-enforced and other legal deadlines to complete environmental cleanup tasks there.
The nation is making considerable progress in cleaning up defense nuclear waste sites but needs resources to continue to ensure cleanup programs maintain critical technical expertise and to keep skilled workers on the job, the letter said.
The Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to start marking up the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act on Wednesday.
The letter was signed by Murray; Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.; Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer, both D-N.Y.; Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall, both D-N.M.; Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; and Sens. James Risch and Mike Crapo, both R-Idaho.
-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; email@example.com