The House passed the fiscal 2013 Energy and Water Appropriations bill Wednesday, which addresses Hanford and Yucca Mountain budget issues, private docks on the Columbia River and salmon-eating birds in the Mid-Columbia.
While much remained the same as in earlier versions of the bill, the House did approve an amendment to provide more money to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in an attempt to force a continuation of licensing activities for the Yucca Mountain, Nev., nuclear waste repository.
The $10 million increase won bipartisan support and passed 326 to 81, with Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., among those in favor. The money would come from the DOE departmental administration account for salaries and expenses.
"This continues to show House support for completion of the Yucca Mountain review process within NRC," said Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., who sponsored the amendment, in a statement. "After having spent 30 years and $15 billion, the NRC refuses to follow the law and complete the review process."
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The amendment removes the excuse that the NRC lacks the money to perform the work, he said.
The repository, which the Obama administration has opposed, was planned to accept Hanford's irradiated nuclear fuel and its high level radioactive waste once it is glassified at the Hanford vitrification plant.
The House version of the Hanford budget remains unchanged from April when Hastings worked to get $8 million added to the original House proposal for the tank farms.
Hastings also supported an amendment this week by Rep. Ben Lujan, D-N.M., that would have increased defense environmental cleanup spending by DOE by $22 million, but the amendment failed 174-244.
The final House budget for Hanford includes $690 million for the vitrification plant and $473 million for the tank farms, which is $6 million above the amount estimated to be needed to do work required by a court-enforced consent decree.
It cuts $10 million from the administration's request of $963 million for cleanup under the DOE Hanford Richland Operations Office, which is responsible for Hanford projects other than the vitrification plant and the radioactive waste left from past weapons plutonium production that is held in underground tanks.
Those amounts will be reconciled with the Hanford budget that passes the Senate.
In other issues specific to the Mid-Columbia, the language accompanying the appropriations bill requires the Army Corps of Engineers to continue to work with local residents to address their concerns with the McNary Shoreline Management Plan as the Corps moves forward with implementation of the plan, according to Hastings' staff. Hastings wrote the language.
In June 2011 the Corps proposed new mandates covering the length, width, color and transparency of docks in the McNary area to reduce the impact to endangered fish. A revised proposal in October addressed some issues, including removing the requirement for improving existing docks if they are safe and have not been significantly modified since the last permit was issued.
However, concerns remain, according to Hastings' staff.
"I still believe claims that docks impact fish survival rates is fiction and not science," Hastings said in a statement. "I am continuing to pressure the National Marine Fisheries Service to either withdraw their statements or provide some sort of justification for these limitations that they have forced on dock owners throughout the state."
The bill passed Wednesday also included report language directing federal agencies to make protecting Northwest salmon from predatory birds a priority. It authorizes the Corps to expedite any appropriate actions, including killing predatory birds or destroying their eggs.
A new Oregon State University report concluded that Caspian terns, cormorants, gulls and other predatory birds consume as many as 15 percent of endangered Columbia River steelhead smolt as they migrate upstream from Bonneville Dam, according to the bill report.
The September 2011 research report concluded that the biggest benefit to salmon smolt would be seen by reducing predation by Caspian terns nesting at Goose Island in the Potholes Reservoir near Othello. The terns fly over the river and feed on juvenile salmon.
For Snake River juvenile salmon, the biggest benefit would result from controlling predation by terns on Crescent Island, which is just below the mouth of the Snake River, the report stated.
"It only makes sense to focus scarce federal resources on the most significant threat to endangered salmon, and last fall's scientific report makes it clear that predatory birds pose a real danger to fish recovery efforts on the Columbia River," Hastings said. "Northwest residents face limits on economic and recreational activities and pay nearly $1 billion annually through utility bills and taxpayer dollars on efforts to benefit only a small percentage of endangered salmon, all while predatory birds are eating as much as 15 percent every year," he said.