Morning Briefing - March 05, 2020
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March 05, 2020

Energy Secretary Gets More Static on Proposed Hanford Cuts

By ExchangeMonitor

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) on Thursday chastised Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette for the deep budget cuts in fiscal 2021 proposed by the White House for the Hanford Site in Washington state.

The former plutonium-producing site, considered the nation’s most complex nuclear cleanup, would see its total spending slashed from $2.6 billion enacted by Congress in fiscal 2020 to roughly $1.9 billion combined between Hanford’s two operating offices. Spending for the entire DOE Office of Environmental Management would drop to $6.1 billion compared to about $7.5 billion appropriated for the current fiscal year.

“There are several cleanup projects underway that stand to be significantly harmed,” she Murray said during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the Energy Department budget request for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

Like Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing last week, Murray said remediation of contaminated soil under Hanford’s 324 Building, also known the Chemical Materials Engineering Laboratory, would be delayed by the budget cut.

Brouillette said the Building 324 project is a convenient point where the work can safely be paused. The situation is stable and the next step would be “to break through the floor,” to access the contaminated soil, he added.

As he did in prior defenses of the budget, Brouillette said DOE could tap certain “carryover” funds from the current year, although he offered no specifics on this. The energy secretary also said the agency will finish building facilities for direct-feed low-activity waste at the Waste Treatment Plant in the coming fiscal year.

The DOE also remains on track to start converting DFLAW from Hanford’s underground tanks into a glass-like form by 2023, Brouillette said.

Likewise, Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) said the proposed cuts to nuclear cleanup “will not stand.” The New Mexico lawmaker called the proposal to cut cleanup funding at Los Alamos National Laboratory from $220 million to $120 million in fiscal 2021, “the worst number I’ve seen in 20 years.”