Cantwell Blasts “Egregious” Legislation That Could Divert Billions From Nuclear Waste Clean-Up, Other Critical Energy Department Programs

Senate currently debating bill that would erode civilian control over spending on nuclear arsenal

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, today decried provisions in the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that could usurp the budgeting authority of the U.S. Energy Secretary and divert billions of dollars from critical Department of Energy (DoE) programs, including ongoing clean-up projects at Hanford and other nuclear sites.

“What’s in this act is really egregious, and we need to correct it before we continue to move forward,” Cantwell said. “We are at a provision that would wrestle away control of our nuclear arsenal and give it to the military… “strip[ping] the Secretary of Energy’s power over his own budget.”

Provisions inserted into this year’s NDAA behind closed doors would effectively transfer the Department of Energy’s civilian control of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and its budget and give that control to the Nuclear Weapons Council, which is overwhelmingly controlled by Department of Defense (DoD) leadership. Currently, DOD develops, deploys, and operates the missiles and aircraft that can deliver nuclear warheads, while NNSA oversees the R&D, testing, and acquisition programs that produce, maintain, and sustain the warheads.

If enacted into law, this could allow the Nuclear Weapons Council to insist on more spending for nuclear weapons, funding that would have to come out of the Energy Department's other programs. That could imperil future funding for other critical DoE responsibilities, such as cleanup of the nation’s nuclear weapons complex, promoting scientific and technological innovation, managing our National Laboratories, and sponsoring basic research in the physical sciences.

Previous efforts to make such sweeping changes to civilian control of our nation’s nuclear weapons programs have been met with opposition ranging from the Trump administration to former Secretaries of Energy to recent NNSA Administrators to the Congressional Advisory Panel on the Governance of the Nuclear Security Enterprise.

“This is a very big change. And that is why I oppose Subtitle B of the Budget Nuclear Security Administration, and why my colleagues should work in a very aggressive way to stop this legislation with this language in it,” Cantwell said. “They should take this language out now or work with our colleagues to protect the Department of Energy and the Department of Energy’s budget.”

Senator Cantwell has long championed the Hanford clean-up and defended its budget against cuts. In spending bills in 2018 and 2019, Cantwell led successful efforts to defeat proposed drastic cuts to Hanford’s budget and protect funding for the ongoing clean-up. In November 2019, she secured commitments on Hanford clean-up from Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette during his nomination hearing.

Video of Senator Cantwell’s floor speech is available HERE and audio is available HERE.

A transcript of Senator Cantwell’s floor speech is available HERE.