Sep 13, 2011
By John Fleck
From the Albuquerque Journal
A pair of congressmen on the House Strategic Forces Subcommittee, including Albuquerque Democrat Martin Heinrich, are pushing to protect a proposed nuclear weapons budget increase from an increasingly likely Congressional failure to pass a federal budget Oct. 1.
In a letter Monday, Heinrich and Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, asked the Obama administration to declare an "anomaly" for the National Nuclear Security Administration's budget. NNSA is the prime funding source for Los Alamos and Sandia labs here in New Mexico, and the administration is asking for a big budget increase for the agency in the coming year.
If Congress fails to pass a final spending bill, which appears likely, government funding after Oct. 1 would likely be governed by a "continuing resolution." While details remain uncertain, that would likely mean continued spending at this year's levels, with no budget hike.
The Heinrich-Turner letter tries to head that off by asking the administration to request an exception for the NNSA that would declare the labs' nuke work sufficiently important to get a budget increase under a continuing resolution.
New Mexico officials also are scrambling to determine the impact of cuts proposed for the non-nuclear weapons portions of the Department of Energy's New Mexico spending, which include a reduction in money paid to the state for road work associated with nuclear waste disposal, and a big cut in money for cleanup work at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
A Senate committee vote last week would cut $26 million in federal funding now sent each year to the state Department of Transportation as part of a deal with the state in the late 1990s to host the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, a radioactive waste disposal site in southeast New Mexico.
The Department of Energy spends more than $4 billion a year in New Mexico, most of that on nuclear weapons and nuclear waste.
The proposed cut in environmental cleanup funding at Los Alamos has state officials concerned that the lab will not be able to meet its cleanup deadlines. Among other things, the cuts could reduce the rate at which Los Alamos is able to ship radioactive waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, a permanent disposal site southeast of Carlsbad.
That possibility caused members of the House of Representatives to vote a cut to WIPP's budget, saying less money would be needed if less waste is being shipped from Los Alamos.