The proposed U.S. House budget for Hanford would spend less money than President Obama’s administration requested for the vitrification plant and tank farms next year, but restore some of the money the administration wanted to cut from completion of cleanup along the Columbia River.
The House Appropriations Committee passed the Fiscal 2016 Energy and Water Appropriations bill Wednesday, which would include almost $38 million more for Hanford spending than the current budget. Spending would total almost $2.2 billion, plus some additional money for security.
Although the bill would increase spending from this year’s level, it still would be less than requested by the administration.
The White House had requested an overall addition of about $100 million for Hanford after increasing money for the vit plant and tank farms, and decreasing money for spending elsewhere at Hanford.
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The full House could vote on the bill as soon as next week. The Senate also must take up Hanford spending before a final fiscal 2016 budget is set.
“This bill reverses most of the administration’s proposed cut for the Richland Operations Office, putting cleanup work there on a much stronger path forward,” said Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., in a statement.
The bill is a victory for many critical projects under that DOE office, including remaining environmental cleanup work near the Columbia River, the K Basin sludge and the Plutonium Finishing Plant, he said. The Richland Operations Office is responsible for all Hanford cleanup work except the tank farms and the vitrification plant being built to treat the 56 million gallons of radioactive waste held underground in the tank farms.
The bill would restore about $78 million of the administration’s proposed cut for the Richland Operations Office, bringing the office’s proposed budget to about $923 million, plus additional money for security. It would decrease the administration’s requested budget for the vit plant and tank farms by $146 million.
Newhouse will be focused on money for those projects as the budget process for fiscal 2016 continues, he said.
He hopes that the state of Washington and DOE can reach agreement on the path forward for the vitrification plant and the tank farms, the subject of a state lawsuit in federal court, and that additional details regarding cost and schedule will be provided to Congress, he said.
The House budget report said DOE needs to tell Congress more about its plans for Hanford cleanup and its costs before the House can support more money for Hanford.
The bill includes $1.2 billion for the Office of River Protection, which is responsible for the vit plant and tank farms.
The House proposal would leave vitrification plant spending at its traditional $690 million a year. The administration proposal had called for spending $765 million.
DOE has not provided Congress with a cost estimate on either its plan to start processing some low activity waste at the vitrification plant before all the plant is ready to operate, or the delays and extra work caused by unresolved technical issues, according to the House budget report. An earlier start to low activity waste processing would require a new facility to be built outside the vitrification plant to prepare the waste for treatment.
“The committee supports continued flat funding for the period of time that the department needs to better refine its cost and schedule plans and provide those details to the Congress,” the report said.
The House would increase tank farm spending from the current $522 million to $578 million, an increase of $56 million. However, the bill would be $71 million short of the amount proposed by the administration.
Without adequate work completed in the tank farms, DOE will not be ready to feed waste to the vitrification plant, warned Gary Petersen, vice president of Hanford programs for the Tri-City Development Council.
However, the proposed restoration of much of the cut to the budget for the remainder of Hanford, all under the DOE Richland Operations Office, shows “tremendous support” for cleaning up Hanford along the river, Petersen said.
The House proposed budget includes about $79 million more than the White House’s proposal for cleanup along the river, or a total of $276 million for fiscal 2016.
This fiscal year, about $378 million is available for cleanup along the river. But with much of that work completed in the last decade, the House proposes a reduction. It is not as deep a reduction as the cut to $197 million proposed by Obama.
Despite the progress made on cleanup near the river, some high-risk projects remain unfinished. They include the 618-10 Burial Ground and the 324 Building, which has a highly radioactive spill beneath it. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz has not directly answered questions about plans for those projects during congressional committee budget hearings this year.
“The committee is concerned that the department’s strategy represents a change in the cleanup plans that have not been fully explained to stakeholders and that delays indefinitely the completion of some high hazard projects,” the House budget report said.
The House proposal would require a report to the Senate and House appropriation committees within 90 days of passage of the budget appropriations bill. The report is required to clearly delineate goals and deadlines over the next five years and explain any deviation from legal agreements or commitments previously made to the state of Washington or others.