Patty in the News

Questions remain about certain decisions in the Obama administration's proposed budget for Hanford next year, although it is better than its proposal a year ago, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said Tuesday.

She questioned Peter Orszag, director of the White House's Office of Management and Budget, about Hanford and the Veterans Administration construction budget at a hearing of the Senate Budget Committee.

On Hanford she got no immediate answer, but OMB agreed to meet with her to discuss issues.

"We're in a different place from last year when the (Department of Energy environmental management) budget had a proposed cut, and I do want to thank you for the proposed increase, which I view as an acknowledgment that the federal government does have an obligation to clean up these sites across our nation," Murray said.

The Obama administration's proposed Hanford budget for fiscal 2011 would increase spending for environmental cleanup by as much as $39 million to about $2.1 billion.

The budget would increase spending at the DOE Hanford Office of River Protection, which is dealing with the critical issue of emptying leak-prone underground tanks of radioactive waste and building the $12.2 billion vitrification plant to treat the waste.

But it would decrease spending at the DOE Hanford Richland Operations Office, which handles the rest of the work at Hanford, including protecting ground water and cleaning up the 80 square miles of ground water contaminated with hazardous chemicals or radioactive waste at the nuclear reservation.

Among the proposed cuts in the Richland Operations Office budget is a reduction from $205 million being spent this year on ground water protection and cleanup work to $130 million in the proposed budget. That's a concern, Murray told Orszag.

The Richland Operations Office work, which includes cleanup of central Hanford and along the Columbia River at Hanford, should receive much of the nearly $2 billion going to Hanford from spring 2009 through fall 2011 from federal economic stimulus money.

But that money is not intended to offset money for core work at Hanford, Murray said. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money is being used primarily to shrink the contaminated foot print of Hanford by doing the sorts of work that Hanford has proved it can do well, such as digging up contaminated waste sites and tearing down contaminated buildings.

The Obama administration's proposed budget for Hanford next will be considered by Congress, which will set the appropriation on which Hanford's final annual budget will be based. Last year Murray worked to get Hanford more money for its current budget than the administration had proposed, and she's credited with providing the administration with persuasive information on the needs of Hanford and other DOE cleanup sites before it released its proposal Monday for next year's budget.

Also at the hearing Tuesday, Murray questioned why the construction budget for the Veterans Administration is proposed to decline by 15 percent while the number of veterans is increasing.

Among VA construction planned in Washington is a new outpatient clinic at the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial VA Medical Center in Walla Walla authorized by President Obama in November. The $71.4 million project would serve veterans from Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

Although the proposed 2011 construction budget is lower than this year's budget, it is still at a historic high level and will allow the Veterans Administration to focus on its top construction priorities, Orszag said. The total Veterans Administration budget would increase by 20 percent from the current year under the proposed budget, he said.

Murray said she is pleased to see policy changes in the budget that would provide greater access for nondisabled veterans with modest incomes.

- Tri-City Herald