Cantwell Questions Energy Secretary Granholm About DOE Budget

Energy Department’s budget request falls short of Hanford cleanup goals under Tri Party Agreement, proposes to eliminate critical Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) payments

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, at a U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) questioned Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Jennifer Granholm on the President’s FY 2022 Budget Request for Hanford cleanup and expressed serious concerns about DOE’s proposal to eliminate Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) funding. The Energy Department’s PILT program provides payments to the Hanford and Savannah River sites to compensate localities for hosting non-taxable federal land within their borders and to offset lost property tax revenue. The Department pays Benton, Franklin, and Grant Counties these payments.

“Many Washingtonians were also quite upset when DOE’s budget eliminated the Payment In Lieu of Taxes funding for the Hanford and Savannah River sites. As many of my colleagues know, PILT funding is intended to compensate local governments for taxes that they cannot collect from the federal government,” Cantwell said. “It's just kind of surprising why such a small percentage of the Hanford budget would be eliminated. So if you could help me understand what eliminating the PILT funding is about?”

Secretary Granholm responded, “I know that historically, over time, the budgets are always submitted this way. I know Congress fills it in. And I just look forward to working with you on it.”

“We definitely will be fighting but it'd be much better if DOE, since it's 0.2%. I'm pretty sure it didn't affect your grand scheme from a messaging perspective. And yet, it's on the front page of the newspaper above the fold, which sends [the message] to a community that has worked hard for decades to not only produce something, but now clean it up that, we don't care about what it takes for them as a region to pay for education,” Cantwell replied.

Through the PILT program alone, tens of millions of dollars have been invested in Washington counties to help local governments provide vital services like firefighting, police protection, and construction of public roads. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, Washington state received over $9.47 million from DOE for PILT in fiscal year 2017. As communities continue to rebuild in the aftermath of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, this funding is needed now more than ever.

During the hearing, Senator Cantwell also questioned Secretary Granholm about honoring the Tri-Party Agreement and the DOE’s commitment to cleaning the Hanford site.

“In your testimony before the Committee during your nomination process, you promised to ensure that the Hanford site would stay on its mission. Yet the President's budget is about $900 million short from what we think will make a commitment to cleaning up Hanford for what is the track for the Tri-Party Agreement,” Cantwell said, “this is information that came internally from the DOE people at Hanford. This is what it's going to take.”

“We just have to live up to our commitment. So what are you going to do to live up to the commitment of the Tri-Party Agreement and work to get this budget rectified so we know how we're going to stay on track?” Cantwell asked.

In January, Cantwell secured a commitment from then nominee Granholm to submit department budgets that meet the funding requirements under Executive Order 12088--Federal Compliance with Pollution Control Standards for the Hanford Site. Those Tri Party Agreement compliant levels are approximately $1.4 billion for Richland Operation Office and approximately $1.9 billion for the Office of River Protection. However, the President’s proposed is over $900 million short of those levels.

“Adequate Hanford cleanup budgets, along with PILT funding for local schools, libraries, and hospitals, are top priorities for the Tri-City community,” said David Reeploeg, Vice President for Federal Programs, Tri-City Development Council. “We sincerely appreciate Senator Cantwell’s steadfast support for both of these critical issues, and that she highlighted them in her questions to Secretary Granholm.”