Congressional budget leader optimistic on Hanford funding

Rep. Mike Simpson
Rep. Mike Simpson

The Hanford nuclear reservation budget will be OK for the fiscal year that starts next week, predicted Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, who expects to enter negotiations with his Senate colleagues soon on the funding bill that includes the Department of Energy.

Simpson, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, which has jurisdiction over Hanford, visited the Tri-Cities this week for updates on Hanford as the guest of Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash.

“We have got to get this right,” Simpson said about Hanford cleanup. “I’ve told people for 20 years now if we end up contaminating the Columbia River, we can kiss nuclear power goodbye.”

Hanford produced plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program at nine reactors during the Cold War.

Simpson is familiar with issues not only from past visits to Hanford, but also because his hometown of Idaho Falls has similar issues. The Tri-Cities and Idaho Falls are home to workers at both a DOE nuclear environmental cleanup project and a DOE national laboratory.

This week he met with members of a Hanford working group established by Newhouse, Hanford contractor officials and DOE Hanford officials about the challenges for Hanford in the budget.

In the spring, as the House debated its version of the DOE spending bill, Simpson told Newhouse on the floor of the House that he would work to ensure that the Hanford tank farms and vitrification plant had the money needed to move forward safely, efficiently and in a timely manner.

The proposed House budget would restore much of the cuts for Hanford work under the Richland Operations Office, but decrease the budget for the vit plant and tank farms in the wake of concerns that DOE was not providing enough information to Congress about unresolved technical issues.

Most cleanup sites need steady, reliable funding to keep the workforce stable and continue multi-year projects, Simpson said.

Although the possibility of a federal government shutdown remains if a spending measure is not passed, Simpson said the majority of Republicans will work to make sure that does not happen.

A government shutdown “is never good policy and never good politics,” he said.

He also discussed a recently released report requested by appropriations leaders looking at risk at DOE cleanup sites.

A recommendation that states be barred from filing lawsuits over cleanup goes beyond what was requested of the review, Simpson said. The state of Washington has two active Hanford lawsuits in federal court.

Lawsuits require money that could be spent on cleanup, but “you do not want to take away a state’s or a citizen’s right to have a say in how government manages projects,” Simpson said.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews