A budget amendment that could keep the door open for more money for Hanford cleanup in the next fiscal year was approved Thursday by the Senate Budget Committee.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., introduced the amendment to allow for increased funding for the Department of Energy’s nuclear waste cleanup across the nation, including at the Hanford nuclear reservation.
The amendment would create a placeholder in the proposed fiscal 2016 budget if a future deal can be reached to increase cleanup funding without raising federal spending in the budget. Money would have to come from either increased revenue or a cut to another section of the proposed budget.
The Obama administration released a fiscal 2016 budget request in February that provides a $5.8 billion budget for DOE Office of Environmental Management environmental cleanup across the nation.
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Murray said she applauded the increase to $5.8 billion, which is $200 million more than the administration’s request the previous year.
“Unfortunately, this request is still $43 million below what Congress appropriated (last year),” she said. “And funding will be cut at nine of the 16 nuclear waste cleanup sites across the nation.”
The budget for the DOE Hanford Richland Operations Office would be cut by $93 million. Key environmental cleanup projects to reduce risk, including at highly contaminated sites close to the Columbia River, would lose momentum or be stopped under the administration’s proposal, the Tri-City Development Council has said.
However, the DOE Hanford Office of River Protection, which is considered a separate project for budgeting purposes, would receive an increase of $200 million under the administration’s proposal. It is responsible for central Hanford waste storage tanks and the vitrification plant being built to treat the waste.
“Cleaning up the Hanford Site is one of our state’s top environmental priorities, and I have been crystal clear with my expectations that the federal government meet its milestones at nuclear waste cleanup sites,” Murray said. “And the administration — under both Democratic and Republican control — has consistently failed to meet this threshold.”
The amendment passed the budget committee by voice vote with bipartisan support. Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., were cosponsors of the bill.
Murray, a senior member of the budget committee, also introduced an amendment on Thursday to relieve sequestration’s automatic budget cuts for two more years. It faced Republican opposition and failed.
At the end of 2013 Murray and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., worked with their colleagues to pass the Bipartisan Budget Act, which rolled back sequestration evenly across defense and non-defense discretionary spending for two years.
She pitched her proposed amendment Thursday to build on that deal.
Her amendment that was approved Thursday related to DOE Office of Environmental Management spending will be more important for Hanford funding if there is no sequestration relief.
However, the amendment does not guarantee more money for Hanford and other sites. An appropriation including that spending still would need to be approved.