News Releases

Update: Amendment Defeated

Mr. President, I rise today in support of the Cantwell amendment. I would like to thank my colleague from Washington state for her tireless effort on this issue and her commitment to assuring the federal government meets its responsibility to the people of our state by fully cleaning up the Hanford site.

Mr. President, today on the Senate floor there is an unprecedented attack on my state’s ability to ensure we clean up the nuclear waste that threatens the families I represent. I’m here to fight it and to send a clear message to the Administration. You should be back at the table –working with all the states and all of Congress – instead of trying to get the Senate to bail you out of a court case that you lost.

The handwriting is on the wall. The White House wants Washington families to accept a lower clean-up standard, and they are holding our funding hostage, fighting us in court, and pushing misguided legislation here on the Senate floor.

If the White House wins this attempt to leave more nuclear waste untreated, then Washington families will lose. That’s why I’m here on the Senate floor fighting the bill’s nuclear waste provisions and standing up for my state.

I know my colleague from Washington agrees that the fastest, most effective way to clean up America’s contaminated nuclear sites is for the DOE to work as a partner with the states. But sadly today we are seeing a new attempt by the White House to overreach its authority, circumvent a court case it lost, blackmail my state into accepting a lower clean up standard. That threatens the families I represent, and I’m not going to stand for it.

What’s at stake here is the clean up at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in the Tri-Cities in Washington, where we developed the plutonium that helped our country win World War II and the Cold War.

My grandfather settled in the Tri-Cities in 1916, and my dad grew up there. My dad saw how much those communities sacrificed to help our nation have a strong military. Our country has an obligation to make those communities whole -- not leave them with high-level nuclear waste that has leaked from underground tanks.

Anytime someone has threatened our clean up efforts, I have taken them on – and it doesn’t matter if they’re Democrats or Republicans.

In the 1990’s, when the Clinton Administration proposed inadequate budgets for the Hanford clean up, I took them on and used my position in committee and on the Senate floor to get my state the funding it needed.

And every time the Bush Administration has tried to cut Hanford funding, they’ve had a fight on their hands from this Senator. It’s one of the reasons I joined with my colleagues in 2001 to create the Senate Nuclear Cleanup Caucus – so that all the communities across the country who are dealing with nuclear waste will have a strong, bipartisan voice in the Senate.

Time and again, I have taken on this White House when its tried to hurt the families I represent, and I’ve got the scars to prove it.

In FY 2002, the Bush Administration tried to cut Hanford funding by $57 million. I worked in Committee and on the floor to deliver $145 million more for Hanford than the President’s budget.

Then in FY 2003, the Bush Administration tried to cut Hanford funding by $300 million. They also tried to hold our clean-up dollars hostage unless we would jump through the hoops that they set for us. With my support, the Senate rejected the White House’s misguided attempts.

And through my work on the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee –instead of a $300 million cut, we added $433 million to the President's budget for Hanford.

Time and again, I’ve used my position on the Budget Committee and the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee to protect my state, and I’ve gone toe-to-toe with this Administration over nuclear clean up.

In February of 2002, I sharply questioned the President’s Budget Director on their plans to shortchange Hanford.

In April 2002, I chaired a hearing of the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee to review the Bush administration's work at Hanford and other sites.

So don’t think for a minute that we in Washington state are just going to accept these attacks on our ability to get a fast and thorough clean up of the nuclear waste at Hanford.

For more than a year, the Department of Energy has been trying to change the ground rules so it can –leave more waste untreated, declare victory, and walk away from our nation’s most contaminated nuclear sites. They tried to do it in the courts, and they lost. Today, they are trying to do it on the floor of the United States Senate.

As my colleagues know, I’ve been raising warning flags about this effort by the Administration for many months. I warned about it in August of last year. In September, upon passage of the Energy and Water bill, I once more raised concern about this matter.

But, Mr. President, this attempt is part of a much longer and disturbing effort.

I want to review the history here because it shows an Administration that is venturing far outside the standard practice in ways that threaten my state and others. Let me first offer some background on the Department of Defense bill that’s before the Senate.

The underlying bill contains two provisions dealing with high-level nuclear waste and the Department of Energy’s authority for cleaning up nuclear waste sites in this country. One provision seeks to withhold funding from states that don’t agree to give up their regulatory oversight of certain high-level waste. The second provision deals directly with the cleanup of the Savannah River site in South Carolina, but -- in reality – it has serious implications for every nuclear waste site in this country.

The Department of Energy is making a great deal of noise about a court case it lost. The DOE is claiming that it cannot proceed with cleanup at sites in Idaho, South Carolina and Washington state until legislation

is passed that essentially overturns the court’s decision. I believe it is important to look at how we came to this position today, because it clearly illustrates how DOE has refused good faith offers to resolve this issue between the original litigants, six states, and the Department.

So, let me give a short history of how this issue developed. In 1999, the Department of Energy issued regulations giving itself broad authority to reclassify nuclear waste. Essentially, the Department wanted to make unilateral decisions about – what waste it needed to treat and remove from leaking, underground storage tanks, and what waste it could leave in the ground forever. This would be a dramatic departure from our current system where DOE must work with state and federal regulators on such matters.

To prevent that type of game-playing, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) brought a lawsuit against the Department of Energy in Idaho District Court. Before that case went to trial, the NRDC and the states offered to settle the issues. Unfortunately, the Department of Energy did not appear to take this effort seriously and rejected that cooperative approach. This is an important point – when the NRDC and the states offered to work out these issues outside of the court system, DOE rejected the offer.

So, the case went forward and DOE lost in July of 2003.

Now at this point, 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 Department appealed to the 9th Circuit and immediately came running to Congress, asking for legislation to do what the Idaho Court had rejected. Shortly after the decision, the Idaho District Court sent out an order asking parities to consider mediation. The NRDC and the states quickly agreed to the court’s request. Amazingly, DOE rejected the court’s request.

I believe this is an absolutely critical point, because it demonstrates that the Department has never approached this issue with a mind-set open to considering the state’s concerns or those of the winning plaintiff. This is the second time DOE rejected offers by the other interested parties to cooperatively address this issue. This was a tremendous opportunity to try and reach broad consensus and DOE passed it up. The court’s mediation offer would have had a neutral court appointed mediator and a very good forum for resolving differences. In fact, this could still happen and should happen.

My point in walking through the history of this issue is to highlight the fact that the Department of Energy has had many opportunities to resolve this issue with the states and the original litigants. It rejected state efforts to resolve the issues before litigation went forward. More amazingly, it rejected the Idaho District Court’s request for parties to use mediation after it lost the case.

The states and litigants accepted the Court’s offer, but DOE rejected it and that is inexcusable. Bluntly, it appears that DOE has allowed this issue to be taken over by its legal people. Recently, Environmental Management Assistant Secretary Jesse Roberson testified that DOE and Washington State have an agreed upon a plan for cleaning up the tanks. This is largely correct, and the state is eager for this work to proceed.

The fact is that DOE seems to be the only one that feels new legislation is needed. It is not.

The original litigants and states want to proceed with cleanup and don’t believe the Idaho District Court’s ruling presents any obstacles. Why is DOE alone in its interpretation of the court’s ruling?

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.

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.

Governor Kempthorn of Idaho and Governor Locke of Washington are both opposed to the legislative language currently in the underlying bill. In fact, I have a letter last month from Governor Locke of Washington state outlining his concerns.

For years, senators and congressmen with these waste sites located in their states and districts have had to fight tooth and nail to get adequate funding to ensure cleanup of these sites. Further, as a group we have had to fight back simplistic notions of erecting fences and calling the sites clean and safe. This constant struggle on behalf of our states and districts brought together bi-partisan groups of members in both the House and Senate to fight on these issues.

The House and Senate Nuclear Waste Cleanup caucuses have made a tremendous difference in how the Administration and our fellow congressional members view the cleanup program. I believe the strength of these caucuses have been our unity and commitment to protect our state and citizens interests in cleanup. We have worked together to make sure the federal government lives up to its responsibility to clean up these sites. But the language in this bill is a license for the federal government to walk away from those very responsibilities. Leaving more waste permanently in the ground is not a real cleanup.

What should be of equal concern to every member of this body is the attempt to make such a dramatic legislative end run around the Nuclear Waste Policy Act without any hearing. This is a real, substantive weakening of a carefully crafted law.

Yet, we are weakening it without any broad consensus in this body, any hearing before a Senate committee, or any mark-up before the committee of jurisdiction - the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

I propose to my colleagues that we – remove the offensive language in the underlying bill, allow cleanup to proceed at all three sites, and then set about carefully considering any new legislation. We need more time to address this issue in a more thoughtful manner. There is plenty of time for the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to hold a hearing on this issue and move consensus legislation if necessary. We should not give in to DOE’s efforts to leverage out of Congress bad policy that gives away the legal protections are states and citizens have currently.

The blatant attempt by DOE to withhold funding and stop work should not be accepted by this Congress. Six states have filed an amicus brief opposing DOE’s efforts. The Governors of Idaho and Washington object to DOE’s efforts. The House has not accepted DOE’s language.

I urge my colleagues to support our states and citizens, uphold the federal government’s responsibility to full and real cleanup, and not reward DOE’s unilateral approach to cleanup. This isn’t just about court orders and bureaucratic agreements. This is an obligation that we have to communities in my state that produced the plutonium that helped our country win World War II and the Cold War.

And there is no way that I’m going to let the Bush Administration or the Department of Energy or Senators from other states do things that threaten the families I represent.

I’ve got a message for anyone who tries to threaten my state and force us to accept a lower standard for cleanup. Don’t you dare try to tie our hands as we work to protect our communities. The only way we’re going to clean it up – quickly and thoroughly – is through a real partnership with all of the players. I 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 urge my colleagues to reject the Administration’s approach and support this amendment. Don’t tie the hands of communities who are working hard to clean up nuclear waste. Don’t reward the Department of Energy’s heavy-handed tactics. Don’t leave the families I represent with untreated waste that threatens their health and safety.

I urge my colleagues to support this amendment.