Interim bill continues lab funds

-A A +A
By Roger Snodgrass

Almost unnoticed in the sound and fury surrounding the financial bailout legislation over the weekend, the Senate passed a continuing resolution to fund a number of federal agencies, including the Department of Energy and its national laboratories.

Los Alamos National Laboratory, facing some significant cuts in a House version of the energy appropriations bill, will continue operating for five months at roughly the same level as last year.

As usual, important details of how the status quo will affect individual programs will be worked out, as the fiscal year begins. The extension is effective until March 6.

The catch-all funding measure totaling $630 million was packaged in a cluster of spending measures for Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, Defense (apart from the wars) and Military Construction.

But, along with those items, it also included $23 billion for hurricane relief and $25 billion in loan guarantees for automakers, among other extras.

Approved in the Senate by a 78-12 vote, the bill was sent to President George Bush to sign before funding runs out today for the current fiscal year.

The decisive issue in the energy area, was not about funding for the national labs, but rather whether to remove an offshore drilling ban that has been in effect since 1986, a matter that was effectively decided a few days earlier when the House removed the language from the bill.

“A CR puts off for today the divergent funding priorities between the Senate and House, when it comes to our labs. But stabilized FY2008 funding levels are acceptable when compared to alternatives that would impose arbitrary cuts to the labs’ national security work,” Domenici said after House voted and the plan was finalized. “Under this situation, the weapons activities numbers are better than if we had to split the difference with the House-passed level.”

Domenici said his request for the National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center of $20 million had been included in the bill, $4 million over the budget request, but equal to current funding.

NISAC is a joint Sandia-Los Alamos labs program to protect the nation's critical infrastructure from manmade or natural disasters.

Domenici also requested $5 million for the High-Speed, High-Volume Laboratory Network for Infectious Diseases, a project involving both Los Alamos National Laboratory and UCLA.

The project aims to establish a network of high-throughput automated laboratories that can process and test deadly human and animal pathogens.

The proposal would give government officials faster access to critical information in the event of an infectious disease outbreak.

Ceremonial farewell

Tucked into the Senate’s business Saturday, Sen. Pete Domenici marked another milestone in his 36-year history of service to the state of New Mexico.

As reported by the Associated Press, Domenici said in his ceremonial “farewell speech” that the time had flown by and that it was hard to imagine and manage life after the Senate.

“The time in the Senate when you look at it day-by-day is wrenching, is difficult, is so hard. But when you look at it over 36 years, it’s like a hurricane. It just blew by, and all of a sudden it’s 36 years and you’re gone,” Domenici said.

He said he and his wife, Nancy, have not decided whether to live in the Washington area or in New Mexico and he wasn’t sure what he’d do without the daily debates in the chamber.

“If I don’t have any of that around, I don’t know what kind of person I’m going to be. There’s nothing to do that to me. Maybe I’ll just fade away, but I hope not,” Domenici said.

Domenici said his work with Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories made him somewhat of an expert on nuclear power, helping him bring nuclear power back into the nation's energy mix.

He said there are 26 1,000-megawatt nuclear units pending before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“I’m proud to tell you that nuclear power is in a renaissance posture, and I take a little bit of credit for it,” he said.

As the last crisis of his Senate career was playing out, Domenici said he was certain the Senate will help solve the nation’s turmoil.

Domenici called his Senate career a “magnificent opportunity.”

Domenici decided not to seek re-election after being diagnosed with an incurable brain disease. Congressmen Tom Udall, a Democrat, and Steve

Pearce, a Republican, are battling to replace him in the Nov. 4 election.