News Releases

During a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing, Senator Murray slammed cuts to Washington state priorities in President Trump’s budget request 

The President’s budget once again proposes cutting funding for Hanford cleanup, privatizing the Bonneville Power Association

Senator Murray: “There are several cleanup projects underway that stand to be significantly harmed by those proposed cuts”

Senator Murray: “What I’m hearing from home is that people are really worried about the impact of these decisions on our workers. Safety is always top priority”

***WATCH SENATOR MURRAY’S QUESTIONING HERE***

(Washington, D.C.) – Wednesday, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, pressed Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette on President Trump’s proposed budget, which includes millions of dollars in cuts to Hanford cleanup and proposes privatizing the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). During the hearing, Senator Murray specifically emphasized the importance of creating a safe work environment for those at Hanford, and asked Secretary Brouillette if the Department of Energy (DoE) has looked into the impact that the proposed budget cuts would have on worker safety at Hanford. Senator Murray also criticized the administration’s proposed privatization of BPA, a move that would significantly increase energy costs for Washingtonians.

“What I’m hearing from home is that people are really worried about the impact of these decisions on our workers. Safety is always top priority at this site and critically, transparency between DoE and WA State partners is absolutely essential on this,” Senator Murray said. “We need consistent and adequate funding levels for all of these proposals and I will talk to you offline on this but we are concerned about that.”

Senator Murray has consistently fought for increased funding for Hanford cleanup and against the Trump Administration’s constant efforts to cut that funding, and has been an ardent champion for Hanford workers, last year helping to secure more than $140,000 in sick leave back pay that they were entitled to from DOE. Senator Murray has also successfully worked against The Trump Administration’s repeated attempts to privatize BPA and sell the BPA power grid.

See Senator Murray’s full exchange with Secretary Brouillette below:

Senator Murray: Well thank you very much Chairman Alexander, Ranking Member Feinstein, I appreciate all your work as always on this really critical committee, thank you.

Mr. Secretary thank you for being here. Let me start with the Hanford site in Central Washington. I was particularly concerned to see that the budget proposed a $700 million cut from last year’s funding level and specifically a 39% cut to the total operations for RL. Whether it’s a cleanup of the highly contaminated soil under the 324 Building or the risk mitigation program that addresses highly contaminated structures that are at a risk of a collapse, like our Purex Tunnel, there are several cleanup projects underway that stand to be significantly harmed by those proposed cuts. There’s a laundry list of projects to be done at RL and ORP, not to mention the many tri-party agreement milestones that are already in place.

So I wanted to ask you: What assessment has DOE made on the impact that these cuts would have to the work at RL and ORP, and most importantly to worker’s safety?

Secretary Brouillette: Thank you, Senator I appreciate the opportunity to respond to this. The cuts that you see in the EM program are taken from what are largely known as carry-over funds, so it’s funds that were available from prior year appropriations and we engage in a very robust conversation from inside of the program to defer – safely defer – you just mentioned Building 324,  safely defer projects like that. What we’ve done there is, as you know, I’m assuming you know exactly where this place is, we were at the point in the process of the cleanup of the EM program when we were going to break through the floor and begin the extraction of the dirt. We made a determination that we could safely leave that in place, leave the floor in place, and the material that’s below it is not spreading. So it’s a safe thing for us to defer and that allows us to focus on what we view as the more higher priority projects. As you know, we have milestones to meet, with the Department of Ecology on things like the DF LAW project, so what we’ve done is we’ve refocused our efforts on things like DF LAW, which we will complete the construction of this year in 20, and do the hot start in 2023. So what we’ve done with that restructuring is focus on what we feel like are the higher priority projects. Things like removing the sludge from the K-Basins and moving it away from the river. So that’s what you see, a re-shifting or a shifting of the priorities within the Hanford Complex itself.

Senator Murray: What I’m hearing from home is that people are really worried about the impact of these decisions on our workers. Safety is always top priority at this site and critically, transparency between DoE and WA State partners is absolutely essential on this. We need consistent and adequate funding levels for all of these proposals and I will talk to you offline on this but we are concerned about that. I also wanted to ask you about Bonneville Power Administration, BPA. As you know I’ve worked very hard to make sure that Bonneville Power Administration maintains its flexibility needed to provide quality, low-cost power in the Pacific Northwest and I’m really disappointed that your budget request doubles down on policies that we in Congress have rejected many, many times. Maybe that’s why you proposed it, because you know that we’re going to restore it. But, I’m going to say it again, just for the record say again: I strongly oppose privatizing BPA’s transmission system. It goes against current law, it will hurt our families, particularly low and middle income families who can’t afford more expensive power bills. This proposal really amounts to no more than a one-time benefit to the nation’s budget. One-time benefit. And it would permanently dismantle affordable power systems in the Northwest, and I’m not going to let investors get richer while our people pay higher energy proposals. So, overall it just appears to me that DoE wants to dictate how BPA operates, so let me ask you straight-out: will you commit to respecting BPA’s authority to set policies that support the Northwest and its rate pares?

Secretary Brouillette: Oh of course. Yes, I mean the law is very clear about what BPA can and can’t do and I fully respect that. I want to assure you though, as I told Senator Tester, unless I am directed to by Congress I can’t sell those assets anyway so

Senator Murray: But you put them in your budget.

Secretary Brouillette: They are included in the budget, they have been included in the budget for about the last 35 or 40 years.

Senator Murray: And we reject them.

Secretary Brouillette: And you’ve rejected them. No, I appreciate that [laughs]. It’s important to me as we go forward, should the Congress decide to take that out and to fully fund BPA that we begin to look, however, at the importance of our PMAs to grid resiliency overall, as I mentioned to Senator Tester. You know, if we are going to continue to fund BPA at the levels that we fund it, we should ensure that they are fully integrated into the national security grid, but we should also recognize, that overtime, certain technologies like solar technologies and others are pushing down the price of electricity. So I would love to work with you as we move forward about the rate structure and what we do with BPA as we address these issues.

Senator Murray: We manage a lot with BPA so we’ll leave it there for right now. I did want to, I know grid storage has been mentioned, you mentioned that the grid storage launch pad that we’re focused on at PNNL – very important for climate change, for a lot of things, and I appreciate the strong funding in this budget for energy R&D and Keystone Facilities like the Launchpad. Mr. Chairman this is how we’re going to be able to address a lot of issues. You put it in your budget and it is a bright spot and I thank you for that.

Secretary Brouillette: Thank you, Senator.

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