Governor's budget proposal includes grants for Hanford interests

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire has included enough money for grants in her proposed supplemental budget to cover the cost of all but one grant to Hanford interest groups.

Five public participation grants for Hanford-related use already had been awarded to four agencies to be spent over two years starting July 1, 2011. The grants were among $2.5 million in public participation money awarded to 40 organizations by the state Department of Ecology statewide for the 2011-13 biennium.

But as it looked for ways to trim its budget up to 15 percent, the Department of Ecology had proposed cutting public participation money already authorized from $2.5 million to $361,454.

The governor's proposed supplemental state budget finds a middle ground, including $1.1 million for the grants, which would cover most of the awards related to cleanup of contaminated sites, which include Hanford. Grants for organizations involved in projects such as waste reduction and recycling would not be funded under the proposed budget.

The Hanford-related grants that would be funded include $120,000 for Heart of America Northwest; $120,000 to Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility; $90,000 to Columbia Riverkeeper; and $90,000 to Hanford Challenge. None is based in the Mid-Columbia.

However, the proposed budget would not stretch to cover spending in one previously awarded grant related to Hanford cleanup, $40,000 to Heart of America Northwest Research Center.

The grant was for work related to US Ecology, a commercial landfill for low-level radioactive waste on subleased land at Hanford. It accepts waste from organizations such as universities, hospitals, biotech firms and electric utilities in western states.

The $1.1 million in the governor's budget also would have to be used to cover about $340,000 that the 40 agencies originally awarded grants had spent between July 1 and Nov. 4. The state notified agencies with the grants in late October that they should stop spending money because of the budget difficulties.

Heart of America Northwest began doing emergency fundraising then, saying on its website that it uses the grant money to mail citizens' guides and hold workshops. More than 75 percent of all attendance and comments about Hanford cleanup is generated by Heart of America Northwest and other groups that rely on state public participation grants, it said.

The 40 agencies awarded the biennium grants have been notified about whether they would be funded under the governor's proposed supplemental state budget. But the Legislature, meeting in special session now, still must approve a budget to deal with the state's revenue shortfall.

Money for the public participation grants comes from the Washington Model Toxic Control Act account, which holds money raised by a tax on first possession of hazardous substances. Most money in the fund comes from taxes paid by oil companies, said Laurie Davies, Department of Ecology Waste 2 Resources program manager.

The Department of Energy also awarded Community Involvement Grants in 2011, which were administered nationwide by the New Mexico Community Foundation. Among awards were $60,000 to Heart of America Northwest and $55,000 to Hanford Challenge.

However, no federal budget has been approved for fiscal 2012, which started Oct. 1, and Hanford officials do not have information on what grant money could be available for 2012.

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