(Washington, D.C) - Today, Senator Murray made the following statement as the Senate considered the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill.
"Mr. President, I want to address two parts of the Senate Energy and Water bill that are extremely important to Washington state: the Environmental Cleanup program, which impacts the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, and the Army Corps of Engineers.
First, let me express my deep appreciation to Chairman Domenici and Senator Reid for their work on this bill. As always, they’ve taken limited resources and produced a well-balanced bill. That’s a big challenge given the great needs our country faces in infrastructure, water, and energy. They’ve worked hard to understand the needs of my state and every state, and I thank them. I also want to thank the subcommittee staff. Clay, who is now at the White House, Drew, Tammy, Roger and Nancy do a remarkable job dealing with the thousands of requests from members, and I thank them as well.
I want to begin by talking about the environmental cleanup program at the Department of Energy. That program is charged with cleaning up nuclear sites across the country, including the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state. For many years, I’ve had to fight the efforts of this and other administrations to under-fund this critical responsibility.
This year, I’m pleased that we don’t have to fight for increased funding. I think that success is due to several factors.
First, we have a bipartisan group of Senators who are committed to cleaning up sites in their states, and our group has pushed hard for this increased funding. In addition, we are fortunate to have the Subcommittee Chairman and Senator Reid as allies in this effort. The Department of Energy also deserves credit for putting forward a good budget request that puts these funding issues behind us this year.
But despite the agreement on funding levels, there is another problem that is brewing which I believe threatens the effective cleanup of these sites.
Like the people of the Tri-Cities, Washington, I want to make sure that dangerous waste is cleaned up. I am concerned that this Administration may try to change the ground rules so it could declare victory and walk away from the site, without doing all the clean up work that’s required. That could happen if the Administration changes the definition of high-level nuclear waste.
To prevent that type of game-playing, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) brought a lawsuit against the Department of Energy. That suit sought to block new DOE rules on the re-classification of nuclear waste. Before that case went to trial, the NRDC and the states offered to settle the issues. Unfortunately, the Department of Justice and the Department of Energy rejected that cooperative approach.
The case went to court, and the Department of Energy lost. One would expect the DOE to go back to the plaintiff and the states to settle the issues, but that’s not what happened. Instead the DOE came running to Congress, asking for legislation to do what it could not do in court.
Unfortunately, this tactic of fighting the states and trying to do an “end run” around the other partners in the cleanup is not new for this Administration. The truth is that the fastest, most effective way to clean up these sites is for the DOE to work in partnership with the states and federal regulators. Time and time again, however, this Administration has tried to go it alone to the detriment of the residents who live near these contaminated sites.
To make the best use of the funding provided in this bill, the Department of Energy needs to get back to working in partnership with the states and federal regulators. A unilateral approach will simply cost more money and will only create further delays.
I understand the Department and contractors want to get on with their work, but they must recognize that state and federal regulators also have a job to do. And most importantly, the people who live near these sites deserve to know, understand, and have input on the activities taking place near their homes.
In a letter to Speaker Hastert, the Department claims the loss in court will greatly impede the cleanup of waste in Idaho, South Carolina, and Washington state. That simply is not true according to the NRDC, the Attorneys General of those three states, and the environmental directors of each state. I strongly urge my colleagues to reject the Department’s request for a change in law.
I also strongly urge the Department of Energy to get back to its job of cleaning up the waste, rather than wasting valuable time seeking help from Congress over a court case that it lost.
I would also like to applaud the report language in the Senate bill that directs the Office of Management and Budget to review the Department of Energy’s cleanup agreements, contracting, and cost estimates.
I believe we should press the Department and contractors to cleanup these sites faster and more cheaply. Everyone supports this goal. However, we should not reduce the cleanup standards or threaten the safety of workers and surrounding communities. We must examine agreements and contracts to make sure they are realistic and that they don’t rely on regulatory agreements and technologies that do not exist today.
Mr. Chairman, I do not want to stand here in two, three or ten years and have to explain that the reason some agreement or contract did not meet success was because it was never achievable in the first place.
Let me close this topic by making clear that we are making progress on cleanup around the country. This is a very challenging program that deals with the most dangerous materials in the world. That often requires new solutions and technologies, but our scientists, engineers, and workers have risen to the occasion. At Hanford we are nearly done removing the spent fuel from the K-basins. This work is likely to be complete before the required timeline. Early success is also being achieved on the cocooning of reactors and cleanup of the plutonium finishing plant.
In short, we are starting to make real and substantive progress in this effort. In this bill, we are providing the necessary funding. Now, we need the Department of Energy to take this money and work hand-in-hand with regulators and communities to make the cleanup a success.
ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS
Mr. President, the second issue I’d like to address is the budget for the Army Corps of Engineers.
As Chairman Domenici and Senator Reid often say, we face the challenge of an inadequate budget for the Corps with every Administration. In that simple sense, this year is nothing new. However, I think we are facing a compounding crisis this year when you consider: the scale of this year’s cut-back of the Corps’ budget, the cumulative effect of years of inadequate funding, and the President’s failure to fund low-use/shallow draft ports.
First, the President’s budget for the Corps is $445 million less than our current fiscal year budget. I commend the Chairman and Senator Reid for restoring $233 million of this funding. In the end, however, it creates a downward trend at a time when we cannot afford to ignore our infrastructure. This funding shortfall means we are not keeping up on our time-lines to construct projects that are already underway. It also means we are not moving ahead on new projects that are critical for expanding our infrastructure capability and expanding our ability to export American products.
Even more troubling is the growing backlog in our operation and maintenance funding. Our infrastructure is falling apart around us -- threatening our economy, and in some cases the lives of our sailors and boaters.
In Washington and Oregon, we have many examples of Corps infrastructure that is falling apart. John Day Lock and Dam has a crack running the entire length of one monolith. That threatens the entire operation of the lock. This will require more than $8 million, which is twice what is included in the President’s budget. I thank the Subcommittee for providing an increase for the John Day Lock in the Senate bill.
Here’s another example. Thousands of feet of the north and south jetties at the Mouth of the Columbia River have been lost to storms. The loss of these jetties creates greater dredging issues and threatens the safety of ships and boats that are navigating one of the most treacherous bars in the country.
If left unchanged, the amount of funding provided in the budget for Bonneville Lock and Dam would result in a $4 million penalty against the United States. Again, thankfully, the Senate Subcommittee increased funding and will avoid that penalty.
These are just a few of the threats facing our existing, major water infrastructure. Clearly, the budget for the Corps is grossly inadequate.
We also need to remember that the budget does not provide sufficient funds for low-use and shallow draft ports. In fact, in some cases there is no funding to meet these needs. The President’s budget seems to take pride in under-funding or zeroing out funds for these ports and channels. There is an apparent belief in the Administration that because of the low volume use of these harbors it would constitute an unwise use of federal funds to keep them open. This narrow view of the situation abandons some of our most economically-challenged rural communities in Washington, in Oregon, and across the country.
Look at the Port of Chinook in Washington state where a failure to perform maintenance dredging on the Chinook channel has nearly closed the Port. It was only because the Subcommittee intervened and the Corps responded quickly that the Port will not be closed this fall and winter to fishing fleets. I express my sincere appreciation to the work of this Subcommittee for protecting the jobs relying on this Port.
When the Port of Chinook is properly maintained, the annualized cost of dredging the channel is about $400,000. That small investment produces major economic benefits. The commercial and recreational use of the Port’s marina alone bring in more than $3 million. Add to that number the value of the Buoy Crab Company, which employs 40 year-round workers and 100 seasonal employees. It’s the second largest crab processor in Washington state. And we cannot forget that the Port is located in a rural county that is facing some of the highest unemployment rates in the state.
Near Chinook is the Port of Ilwaco, which generates almost $9 million in commercial seafood sales. Charter boat fishing generates an additional $2.8 million. Again, a consistent dredging program can maintain an economy that brings millions of dollars into a rural economy and keeps our people employed.
In Oregon, they have 7 or more low-use, shallow draft ports. All of them are located in rural, coastal communities, and none of them received funding in the President’s budget. The only bright note once again is that the Subcommittee has chosen to fund these ports and to protect the jobs they support.
It appears that there are more than 25 ports and channels that receive funding not included in the President’s budget. These are ports and channels that will remain open only because this Subcommittee decided to value jobs and economies in rural America.
We must find a way to get this Administration and future administrations to provide adequate budgets for the Corps. We cannot continue to under-fund our existing infrastructure and fail to invest in building our economies.
I thank Chairman Domenici and Senator Reid for their support of these of water infrastructure and for their efforts on this bill.