Senate's proposed DOE budget adds to tank farm money

The Hanford tank farms would see some relief under the Senate version of the Department of Energy budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

However, it's too early to tell how that could affect proposed layoffs at the tank farms next month.

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved the fiscal 2012 budget that includes Hanford, mostly matching the already approved House budget.

However, it increased the proposed money for work at the Hanford tank farms from the $408 million in the House budget to $467 million in the budget the full Senate will consider thanks to Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

"The federal government has a moral and legal obligation to clean up the Hanford site, and I'm pleased that even in this difficult budget environment, I was able to preserve critical funding that Hanford and the Tri-Cities needs and deserves," Murray said in a statement.

Washington River Protection Solutions earlier announced that it is prepared to cut as many as 475 jobs no later than Oct. 13 to prepare for a "worst case" budget scenario for fiscal 2012.

However, the fiscal year still could start without House and Senate bills being reconciled to provide a definitive budget amount for the tank farms, and even at the Senate budget mark, some layoffs still would be likely at the tank farms.

Because of fiscal 2012 budget uncertainties, DOE gave its Hanford environmental cleanup contractors approval to lay off 1,100 workers in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

That's in addition to 1,985 layoffs announced in the current fiscal year, the majority of which will occur Sept. 29. Most of those layoffs are tied to the end of federal economic stimulus spending, although some workers losing their jobs worked at Hanford long before it received the extra money.

Washington River Protection Solutions has been the only environmental cleanup contractor to announce fiscal 2012 layoffs so far with the caveat that plans could change based on Congressional action.

It is responsible for operating the tank farms where 56 million gallons of radioactive and hazardous waste are stored in underground tanks until the waste can be treated.

It had announced no layoffs tied to the end of Recovery Act money because long-term DOE spending plans called for an increase in spending at the tank farms to prepare for the start of treatment of tank waste at the Hanford vitrification plant. That would create jobs to replace the Recovery Act jobs.

But he House budget for the tank farms of $408 million is$113 million below the administration's budget request. The Senate's proposed budget partially makes up the difference.

Hastings has secured a commitment from Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, the chairman of the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, to work with him to modify the balance of funding between the tank farms and the vitrification plant as the budget process continues. The proposed 2012 budget shortchanged the tank farms, Hastings has said.

The vitrification plant would receive $740 million for fiscal 2012 under House and Senate versions of the Hanford budget. That's more than the $690 million that original plans outlined as the annual amount needed to build and commission the plant to treat Hanford's radioactive tank waste for disposal.

DOE proposed a budget of$840 million in fiscal 2012 for the vitrification plant as part of a plan to move more of the total money to earlier years and spend less money in the years just before the plant opens.

House and Senate budgets also include $20 million more to continue demolition of the Plutonium Finishing Plant than proposed by the administration.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com