Cantwell Blasts Hanford Cleanup Cuts Buried in Vital Funding Package

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) criticized deep cuts to Hanford cleanup efforts that were included in the Energy and Water Appropriations bill, passed by the Senate Monday night. While Cantwell supported the bill, which funds infrastructure improvements and irrigation projects vital to Washington state agriculture and transportation, she blasted provisions included in this must-pass bill that shortchange Hanford cleanup and slow progress at the site.

"The federal government has a legal and moral obligation to cleanup Hanford," said Cantwell, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "Hanford is the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site. Slashing the cleanup budget puts our state at risk and ignores the best interests of all Washingtonians."

[Senator Cantwell’s statement on the Energy and Water Appropriations bill follows below]

"I rise today to share my views on the conference report to accompany H.R. 2419, the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill. While I support this legislation, I do have significant reservations about certain provisions of the conference report before the Senate today. Most significantly, I am very disappointed with the funding level included for Hanford Site cleanup.

"The federal government has a legal and moral obligation to cleanup the Hanford site and its nuclear legacy. The President’s budget sets the tone for the appropriations process. I was very concerned when the President’s request slashed funds by more than $290 Million from last year’s levels, jeopardizing compliance with cleanup milestones and putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.

"Among the most important risk reduction projects are the cleanup and treatment of waste stored in underground storage tanks near the Columbia River. At the Hanford site there are 177 underground storage tanks containing more than 53 million gallons of radioactive and toxic waste. Sixty-seven of these tanks are known to have leaked, allowing at least one million gallons of waste to seep into the soil.

"Tank waste cleanup is critical to the overall effort in Hanford. I am extremely concerned about a recent report from the Department of Energy Inspector General that found significant problems with the administration’s plan for tank waste cleanup in the C-Tank Farm. The audit found that the Department of Energy was overly optimistic and failed to account for problems encountered during previous retrieval operations.

"The Department has known since January of this year, before the presentation of the President’s budget, that the scheduled C-Tank completion date of September 2006 would likely be missed and project costs would more than double. Falling behind on the C-Tank Farm cleanup will jeopardize long term tank cleanup commitments.

"Despite those challenges, the Department cut the tank cleanup program by $62 million in its FY 2006 request. That request forced Congress to work within an incredibly limited budget environment to restore at least some of the funding necessary to keep tank cleanup on track. Fortunately, we could add $27 million in the conference report.

"I remain concerned, however, that the Department has yet to publicly acknowledge that it will miss the C-Tank Farm Tri Party Agreement milestone. Nor has it committed to adequate funding in Fiscal Year 2007. I urge the Department of Energy to quickly respond and propose a new appropriate cost estimate and cleanup schedule.

"In order to fully reduce risk we must have the facilities necessary to treat the toxic and radioactive waste from Hanford’s tanks. The timely construction of the vitrification plant is critical to reducing risk and protecting our citizens. The facility was designed to treat most of the waste removed from the 177 underground tanks before its storage at the Hanford site or a national depository.

"But in the face of design challenges, the administration’s budget cut funding for vitrification plant construction—setting it at $58 million less than Fiscal Year 2005 funding levels. The Department said it needed to reduce funding in order to address the seismic issues with the design of the facility.

"Despite both houses of Congress supporting funding levels for the vitrification plant at least at the President’s request level, this conference report reduces funding to $100 million below the already-low Fiscal Year 2006 request. This level of funding would be $158 million less than the Fiscal Year 2005 appropriations level.

"Remarkably, the president has proposed a rescission of an additional $100 million in previously appropriated vitrification plant construction funds to address Hurricane recovery efforts. In his letter to the Congress, the president labeled plant construction as a lower priority federal program.

"These cuts come at the same time that, as the administration has noted, costs for the vitrification plant have increased by at least 25 percent. And language in the underlying report estimates that the cost of the plant may rise to $9.3 Billion. Yet this administration continues to cut funding, jeopardizing long-term cleanup milestones.

"I urge the administration to drop its proposed $100 million rescission, set forth a clear cost and schedule for the completion of the vitrification plant, and fund the vitrification plant in a way that does not jeopardize the health and safety of our region.

"I do not support the funding levels for Hanford cleanup in this year’s conference report and hope that the administration will make a clear commitment with its Fiscal Year 2007 request. The federal government must keep its commitment. I hope the current administration will back its words with clear action."