KENNEWICK — A House subcommittee has approved a Hanford budget for next year that would keep spending at the same level as this year, when sequestration caused layoffs and furloughs.
However, the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee has approved spending about $82 million more than the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee.
While getting a final budget of that amount is unlikely given the federal budget climate, the higher amount proposed in the Senate could increase funding prospects if the House and Senate approve Hanford budgets and they are reconciled in a conference committee.
“I’m proud that I was able to work with my colleagues to include a strong funding level in the Senate appropriations bill in an extremely difficult budget climate,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., in a statement.
“I will continue working to ensure Hanford has the federal resources needed to get the job done, but the significant differences between the funding levels proposed by the House and Senate will make it a tough task,” she said.
The House subcommittee proposed increasing spending at the Hanford tank farms to $520 million, the largest increase in defense environmental management spending proposed for fiscal 2014.
The money is needed to address newly discovered leaks of radioactive waste from underground tanks and degraded ventilation and level monitoring systems in the tanks, according to the report accompanying the bill.
However, it would drop spending at the vitrification plant, being built to treat the waste for disposal, from the long-planned steady funding of $690 million to $675 million.
The reduction reflects the halt on construction at the plant’s Pretreatment Facility until technical issues are resolved and “the lack of a clear overall plan to complete the facility, the continued failure to provide timely information and the continued management of the project without valid performance data against which it can track progress,” the report said.
“I have always sought steady stable funding for (the vitrification plant), but full funding in any final bill is unlikely without a plan for the facility,” said Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., in a statement.
He is hopeful that DOE is coordinating with the state of Washington and preparing to share a plan that includes basic questions about how much the plant is now expected to cost and when all of its facilities will be operating, he said. DOE has said the plant is unlikely to be completed for the most recently budgeted $12.2 billion.
“Long-sought details about the cost, schedule and work scope required to resolve technical issues and conduct testing must also be provided,” Hastings said.
The extent of engineering issues at the plant is deeply troubling and DOE needs to make considerable improvement in its management of the project to ensure it will operate safely, the report said.
“The budget request provides little transparency into how the department is using its funding to advance the project or whether it is able to track and manage ongoing work,” the report said.
A goal to have the plant treating tank waste for disposal as soon as possible led to construction being done on the plant as its design was being developed, which has resulted in costly reworking and schedule delays, the report said.
No money can be used to restart construction at the Pretreatment Facility until DOE can show the design is mature enough to prevent rework, the report said.