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Congress marks up energy funding proposals (correction)

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By Roger Snodgrass

Congressional panels approved two preliminary appropriation proposals with subtle implications for Los Alamos National Laboratory’s budget prospects

 

The full House Appropriation Committee, typically a step ahead of their Senate counterparts, approved their funding proposal Tuesday evening, while the Senate Energy and Water subcommittee was just beginning a similar process on the other side of the Capitol Wednesday morning.

 

The result, shaving and shifting relatively small amounts of funds relative to the administration’s request, reflected some differing priorities between the two Houses to be resolved farther down the road before a final bill can be approved.

 

The House proposal, which will go next to the full body for consideration, authorized a total of $26.9 billion for the Department of Energy; the Senate subcommittee came up with $27.4 billion, or about $500 million difference between the two committees.

 

In the recent past, a good part of the difference between the two Houses at this point in the process has had to do with funds for LANL, but that appears to be less of a factor this time around.

 

New Mexico’s two Democratic senators, Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall, pointed to the Senate version’s $30 million addition for upgrading the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center (LANSCE) for nuclear stockpile work. The restoration of this cut recommended in the administration’s proposal had been a particular priority for the senators.

 

“Delaying upgrades to LANSCE would have had a serious impact on our stockpile stewardship program, making it very difficult to eventually ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty,” Bingaman said in a joint announcement with Udall. “LANSCE also supports key non-classified scientific research in the areas of medicine and energy. For all these reasons, I’m very glad we’re on the way to securing the funding needed to support LANSCE.”

 

In a 15-minute committee hearing, Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., chairman of the Senate subcommittee, accounted for another large portion of the difference between the two budget proposals, noting that he did not agree with the administration’s decision to terminate the hydrogen fuel research and development program.

 

“Our subcommittee has restored $190 million to that program,” he said.

 

The Senate measure, which now goes to the full committee for consideration, includes $204 million for environmental cleanup at Los Alamos to meet milestones in the consent order with the state. This was $15 million above the President’s request, the N.M. senators reported.

 

The newly drafted Senate bill contained $98 million for the embattled Chemistry and Metallurgy Facility Replacement (CMRR) Project, which the House committee left at the level of the administration's $55 million request.

 

At a meeting of community leaders on Tuesday, LANL Director Michael Anastasio seemed to accept the possibility that CMRR could be “deferred,” along with another major facility construction project in South Carolina.

 

“But the good news,” he said, “was that it would maintain capabilities, which translates into people.”

 

Roger Snyder, deputy manager of the Los Alamos Site Office, added that the first building in the CMRR complex, the so-called “rad lab,” was on schedule to be completed in September and on schedule to be equipped and commissioned for occupancy over the next couple of years.