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Today, the Senate defeated, on a 48-48 vote, an amendment by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) that would have struck a legislative provision from the Department of Defense Authorization bill that allows the Department of Energy to unilaterally reclassify high-level nuclear waste at the Savannah River site in South Carolina. With this new authority, the Department will be able to down-grade the waste’s classification and leave more waste untreated in the ground.

Senator Murray warned and fought against the effort since Secretary Abraham first requested new legislative authority last August, urging the Department to go back to work with the states. Upon passage of last year’s Energy and Water bill in September, Murray once again raised this issue. She has spoken with Deputy Secretary McSlarrow, written to Secretary Abraham and Governor Locke, and questioned the Department at a March hearing this year on the matter.

Senator Murray was a co-sponsor of the amendment and spoke on the floor in favor of its passage today.

“I am very disappointed by the result of today’s Senate vote on the Cantwell amendment. This is a significant loss for the people and environment of the state of Washington and everyone in the Northwest.

"The fight today was only necessary because the Administration sought to win in Congress what it lost in court. Instead of working to reach broad consensus on how to proceed with high-level nuclear waste cleanup, the Administration sought to blackmail and divide states in an effort to gain authority to leave untreated waste in the ground.

"I and my staff have worked hard to get this issue addressed in a positive manner, working closely with the state and the original litigants. I'm very disappointed our efforts have not been met with greater openness by the Administration.

"This is a complex issue dealing with some of the world’s most dangerous material. It deserves more attention and consensus than was given through consideration of this Defense Authorization bill. The Administration should urge Congress to remove this provision at conference, abandon any further effort to slip in legislative provisions on this matter, and go back to work with impacted states on real cleanup."

Read Senator Murray's floor speech from earlier today in favor of the amendment.