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Domenici pulls chestnuts from fire

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By The Staff

House and Senate conferees reached a final agreement over the weekend on funding for the nuclear weapons complex, softening many of the cuts that were aimed at Los Alamos National Laboratory.Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., one of the negotiators, who has called this year’s appropriations process the most difficult he has experienced, said it wasn’t all good news.In a summary press release sent out Sunday night, Domenici said the conference agreement would restore $415 million of an estimated $600 million in cuts made by the House appropriation bill in the weapons program.“We didn’t get everything,” he said in a telephone interview Monday. “We saved some things and we pushed some new things.”Among the key issues dealt with in the bill, Domenici predicted problems ahead on environmental cleanup projects at LANL. Despite an increase of $14 million above the House mark, the account remains $74 million below the Senate proposal.Additionally, the compromise agreement eliminated funding for the Reliable Replacement Warhead, a major NNSA initiative for restructuring the nuclear weapons program with newly designed warheads. The negotiators directed NNSA to spend $15 million on a new campaign, called “Advanced Certification,” with a goal establishing the reliability and effectiveness of the new design solutions, Domenici explained in his announcement.Ongoing construction of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement facility was cut by $21 million from the administration’s budget request. But compared to zero funding from the House, the $74.8 million item is a big piece of the restored funding.Another $75 million was salvaged from the House cuts for the production of nuclear pits. The capability to manufacture triggers for nuclear weapons would begin to expand to 80 pits per year.Cybersecurity and nuclear safeguards and security upgrades will put back another $56 million that had been dropped.LANL’s Roadrunner supercomputer, eliminated by the House, will be fully funded under the compromise bill.The lab also received additional funds for classified vault consolidation and the Technical Area 18 mission, as well as full funding for upgrading the Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility.The FY 2008 Energy and Water Development bill totals $30.88 billion to fund the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration, along with he Bureau of Reclamation, the Army Corps of Engineers and related agencies. The agreement will be rolled into an omnibus appropriations bill that wraps 11 unfinished spending measures into a single piece of legislation scheduled to be voted on by the House and the Senate this week.Overcoming a final hitch, the conferees made across the board cuts of .9 percent in the Department of Energy budget and 1.6 percent in the water accounts and earmarks requested by individual members, to shave an additional $493 million off the total.“We’ve been to the brink and we've backed away to come up with a budget that will allow our national laboratories to fulfill their missions,” Domenici said, wishing everybody in Los Alamos “the best possible Christmas they could have and a good New Year.”He said restoring the cuts proposed by the House to the weapons program “means the labs should be able to carry out their national security missions and maintain their workforces. This bill will not reverse current plans to lay off 500-750 workers at Los Alamos, but it should help to avoid additional and future layoffs.”Domenici said he had drawn on support beyond the appropriations subcommittee.“This has been hard work, not relying on ourselves within the committee,” he said. “We saw a lot of people, talked to a lot of senators and got them to understand our dilemma.”Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., turned out to be a fighter for this cause, Domenici said.“We worked hand in hand; we proved their budget would ruin these labs,” he added, referring to the House version of the energy and water bill.In a statement Sunday, laboratory director Michael Anastasio said, “I would like to thank the New Mexico delegation for its work on the omnibus bill, and in particular Senator Domenici for his leadership and support for the Laboratory as the ranking member of the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee.”Rep. Tom Udall said the assurances he had received from House and Senate leadership had been fulfilled to maintain the lab’s core funding levels.“However, we must not lose sight of the fact that in the near future we face a major reduction in our nuclear footprint,” he said in a prepared statement. “We must continue to plan for the lab’s future and that means growth in new areas.”