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Manhattan Project Park stalls in U.S. Senate

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Politics> Supporters remain optimistic about passage in 2014

By Arin McKenna

Hopes that the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act would become law this year were dashed when the U.S. Senate rejected a House of Representatives amendment attaching the bill to the National Defense Authorization Act.

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The House amendment passed in June, but was not included in the final text of the defense bill released late Tuesday night.

“What I understand is that they just determined that it would not be the best place to approach the legislation, through the Defense Authorization Act. And so they took it out of there,” said Bradbury Science Museum Executive Director Linda Deck. “So it’s not that they said, no, it shouldn’t happen. It’s just that they took it out of that piece of legislation.”

Los Alamos Historical Museum Executive Director Heather McClenahan noted that supporters have become accustomed to disappointment in the 10 years since MCNHP legislation was first introduced. McClenahan is the county’s MPNHP project point person.

“This is the closest that we’ve ever been, but it’s obviously disappointing on the one hand,” McClenahan said. “On the other hand, we have great reason for optimism. We are through both committees in the House and Senate. We still have bicameral, bipartisan support. We still have three congressional delegations working toward it. So we still have reason for optimism, to think that 2014 will be our year.”

Since the current session of Congress continues next year, the bill does not have to be reintroduced or go back through committees.

According to Oak Ridge Today (Tenn.), House Natural Resources Committee Chair Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) — who put the bill forward in the House–has vowed to attach it to next year’s NDAA. The proposed park includes Hanford, Wash., Oak Ridge, Tenn. and Los Alamos.

The House determined that the NDAA amendment was appropriate due to the Army’s role in the Manhattan Project and the development of nuclear weapons. However, no one the Los Alamos Monitor spoke with believed the bill was likely to pass that way.

“The politics are complicated because of this history of not being able to get the House to support many park bills. The Senate prefers to not just deal with the Manhattan Project bill standing alone, because they see this as the one bill that Doc Hastings and his colleagues in the House really want, and they have consistently turned down the other parks bills,” said Atomic Heritage Foundation President Cynthia Kelly.

“Especially since this one is so important to Doc Hastings, they think it’s a real lure. This is just such a big plum, and something that Hastings just really, really wants.”

Kelly believed the Senate is more likely to include the MPNHP bill in an omnibus (or mini-omnibus) bill that includes several national parks. Historically, the odds of such bills passing were significantly higher because congressional delegations from several states had a stake in the outcome. However, no omnibus parks bill has passed since 2009.

McClenahan noted that Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) had another concern as well.

Wyden is chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

“I think he’d like to see it as a more traditional public lands bill, and done as a national park,” McClenahan said. “If it’s attached to the defense spending bill, how does the Department of Interior get the funding for it? It wasn’t really as clear as Senator Wyden might have liked it to be.”

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) vowed to keep fighting for passage of the bill. The statement he released reads,
“Many Americans are unfamiliar with the history of our country’s nuclear weapons complex because its creation and operation were shrouded in secrecy. But the work done at Los Alamos National Lab and at sites across the country profoundly changed the world, and it’s a story that deserves to be told in a National Historic Park.

“It’s disappointing that gridlock in Congress prevented this amendment from passing in the Defense Authorization bill, but I’ll continue to work with my colleagues to get this measure passed as a standalone bill or as part of a broader piece of legislation.”

Supporters were consistently optimistic that the bill will pass next year.

“This is one of those projects that require perseverance,” said Los Alamos County Council Chair Geoff Rodgers. “There is a glimmer of hope that some of the partisan rancor may be put aside to get a real budget done. After that, perhaps some other things can be accomplished.

“While I am disappointed it was not included this year, I remain very optimistic we can make this happen.”