President Donald Trump wavered, saying he planned to veto the $1.3 trillion spending bill passed by the U.S. House and Senate, but then reluctantly signed the bill into law Friday.
His signature on the bill will pump money into the economy of the Tri-Cities, which has benefited from about $3.4 billion of federal funding annually.
But the bill also includes some possible losses — or some wins that may not last — for Tri-City area.
No sell off of BPA assets — for now
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The bill makes moot Trump’s proposal to sell off the Bonneville Power Administration’s transmission system, at least through September, the end of this fiscal year.
The federal agency operates and maintains about 75 percent of the high-voltage transmission system in the Northwest.
With only half of fiscal 2018 remaining, federal officials are working on the fiscal 2019 budget.
The administration’s budget proposal for next year includes a broader plan for BPA and the nation’s other, similar federal power marketing administrations, to sell off transmission assets and shift from cost-based rates for electric consumers to market-based rates.
It could potentially undermine reliable and affordable electric service in states like Washington, said a letter sent Thursday to the Office of Management and Budget, which prepares the president’s budget proposal. It was signed by Washington democratic Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and 21 other senators, both Democrats and Republicans.
The proposal likely would shift economic value from families and businesses in states like Washington to investors, the letter said.
It quoted a report from Moody’s Investor’s Service saying that the proposal is likely to raise rates for BPA customers because new private owners would have higher capital costs that would have to be recovered in electric rates. Most Tri-City area electric utilities rely on BPA power.
No halt to increased spill over Northwest dams
Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., pushed to use the bill as a vehicle to prevent increased spill over eight dams on the Columbia and lower Snake Rivers.
The provision barring the spill did not get enough support to be included in the bill, as signed.
A federal judge ordered more water to be spilled over the dams, rather than be used to produce electricity, with the goal of seeing if that helps salmon. The spill is set to start April 3.
The change in dam operations is expected to increase costs to Northwest electric customers by about $40 million per year.
Newhouse, who voted against the spending bill, also was disappointed that his language that would have authorized some foreign national agricultural workers to be employed year round did not make the final version of the bill.
“Central Washington’s agriculture-based economy depends on reliable supplies of labor, water and energy, and I could not support this legislation that did not address my constituents’ concerns,” he said.
He also was concerned about the amount of funding in the bill, pointing out the the national debt has just surpassed a record $21 trillion.
The Trump administration proposed eliminating the fund, but Cantwell pushed back on as the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
A portion of the money paid by energy companies for offshore oil and gas leases is set aside to protect land and water for public use.
The fund has helped preserve land in Washington state, from Mount Rainier to Juniper Dunes, and helped pay for more modest projects, including Badger Mountain Spray Park and the Kennewick city pool.
Maintains funding for the EPA
A cut of 30 percent had been proposed for the Environmental Protection Agency, a regulator of the Hanford nuclear reservation.
The budget keeps funding for the agency about level.
Deep cuts had been proposed for some key science agencies funding research at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, a Department of Energy Office of Science laboratory.
A preliminary analysis done by lab leadership last year said that the administration’s proposed budget could result in a loss of more than 1,000 jobs at the lab.
The analysis projected a cut of $190 million to its budget of what was about $950 million in fiscal 2017.
The lab relies on funding from many programs, making the impact of the newly signed budget bill difficult to quickly quantify.
But its funding levels look promising. The Tri-City Development Council called the spending bill “good news” for PNNL.
A news bulletin from the American Institute of Physics described science spending in the bill as a “windfall.”
The bill set the Department of Energy’s Office of Science budget at $6.3 billion, which is $1.8 billion more than the administration’s budget proposal, said Murray’s staff.
It includes at least $43 million for the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory and at least $65 million for the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement User Facility, both based on the PNNL campus.
Lawmakers rejected the administration’s proposal to cut the Hanford budget and included $2.4 billion in the spending bill.
Some additional funds will be added to that amount for security at the nuclear reservation.
Though Newhouse rejected the final spending bill, his work in 2017 helped get $54 million added to the administration’s budget proposal for fiscal 2018 in an earlier package of House appropriation bills. Murray boosted the administration’s proposal by $196 million in the earlier package of Senate appropriation bills.
They helped shape the final omnibus spending bill signed by the president.
TRIDEC is turning its attention now to the Hanford budget for the next fiscal year.
The Trump administration has proposed a $230 million cut to Hanford nuclear reservation in fiscal 2019.
Hanford will need an increase in the fiscal 2019 budget to maintain ongoing environmental cleanup work and to make preparations to start treating low-activity radioactive waste at the vitrification plant as soon as 2022, according to TRIDEC.
Just covering routine and overhead costs to maintain and operate the site without advancing environmental cleanup — what DOE officials call “minimum safe” condition — costs about $1 billion a year, according to figures from TRIDEC.
“These costs will only go up as the site’s infrastructure continues to degrade, and will not go away until the site is cleaned up,” said David Reeploeg, TRIDEC vice president for federal programs. “Investment now will not only reduce risks, it will significantly reduce long-term costs to American taxpayers.”