May 06, 2013

Udall, Heinrich, Luján Make Progress On Restoring LANL Cleanup Funding

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Representative Ben Ray Luján announced today that the Department of Energy (DOE) and the White House have responded to their calls for critical funding needed to maintain ongoing environmental management efforts at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) by sending a reprogramming request to Congress in the amount of $19 million.

They are now urging the necessary Congressional Committees to approve the request without delay and advocating for an additional $21 million from the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to meet a federal agreement with the State of New Mexico. Reprogramming actions allow federal agencies to shift funds between accounts during a fiscal year but must be approved by the White House Office of Management and Budget and Congressional Committees with jurisdiction.

"We would like to impress upon you the importance of this reprogramming and the urgency of its approval," they wrote to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations and Armed Services today. "Due to the continuing resolution for FY2013 and the negative impacts of sequestration, Environmental Management programs do not have the funding needed for much-needed cleanup efforts."

Following the Las Conchas fire in June 2011, DOE and the State of New Mexico signed a framework agreement to expedite the removal and off-site shipment of high-risk combustible and dispersible transuranic (TRU) waste currently stored above ground at LANL. Under the new agreement, DOE committed to remove the 3,706 cubic meters of above ground TRU waste by June 30, 2014.

To ensure critical deadlines are met, the Obama Administration requested $239 million for LANL cleanup in the fiscal year 2013 budget. However, a continuing budget resolution froze the cleanup funding level at $189 million and sequestration cuts further reduced that figure to $173 million.

In their letter, Udall, Heinrich and Luján also push for an additional $21 million transfer from the NNSA to Environmental Management at LANL to meet the agreement. They wrote, "Without additional funding, environmental management will begin to slow operations and issue furlough notices as soon as this week, with full operations scheduled to shut down next month. This would have serious impacts to the productivity of LANL's workforce, the surrounding environment, the security of the transuranic waste, and the federal government's legal obligations to the state of New Mexico."

On April 3, 2013, Udall, Heinrich and Luján wrote to then-DOE Secretary Steven Chu requesting an additional $50 million be made available to LANL to ensure all priority cleanup efforts stay on schedule. According to LANL, at least $15 million is needed to prevent an interruption in the transuranic cleanup operations.

Udall pushed for the additional funds in a recent phone call with White House Office of Management and Budget Acting Director Jeffery Zientz. He also emphasized to Acting NNSA Administrator Neile Miller at a recent Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee hearing that there is a lack of sufficient funding for important cleanup programs at LANL, which are crucial to maintaining strong community support for the lab.

During the Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on April 18, 2013, to consider the president's proposed budget for the Department of Energy for fiscal year 2014, Heinrich sought assurance from DOE's Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer Daniel Poneman that waste cleanup efforts at Los Alamos National Laboratory would receive sufficient funding this year. Heinrich also discussed his ongoing effort to ensure all priority cleanup efforts at LANL stay on schedule with Energy Secretary Dr. Ernest Moniz during his confirmation hearing on April 9, 2013.

As a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Luján and his office have been in close contact with the White House, Department of Energy, and Office of Management and Budget, encouraging swift action to prioritize environmental cleanup at LANL and make additional funds available that meet the government's commitment to remove waste from the lab.