Proposed weapons cuts opposed

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By Roger Snodgrass

New Mexico’s senior senator criticized passage on Wednesday of a House spending bill, and the state’s only representative on the House appropriations committee was also the only member of the committee to vote against the proposed bill.

Speaking of a provision to terminate pit production at Los Alamos National Laboratory in the energy and water appropriation proposal, Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said the measure would leave the nation without capacity to respond to evolving security and technical challenges.

“This bill is worse than the status quo,” he said. “Pit production is necessary and I do not know of a single acceptable argument for the United States abandoning its production capacity.”

The proposal passed by voice vote with Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M. the only opposing voice.

In a statement afterward, Udall said he would work for changes in the final budget.

“(A)lthough this legislation contains many good provisions, it does not provide a path to the future for our national laboratories, and I could not support it,” he said.

Udall is running against Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M. for Domenici’s Senate seat in the November election.

The Pearce campaign posted a press release criticizing Udall for “reversing his previous support for funding cuts to Los Alamos National Laboratory.”

Along with the cessation of pit production, Domenici criticized $273 million in cuts from the stockpile stewardship accounts, which are largely shared by Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories, and a $66 million reduction in advanced computing.

He noted that the bill adds $87 million to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility. Domenici has been more inclined to propose cuts on that project in recent years.

Domenici also highlighted a $19.6 million cut to the Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility, eliminating the budget request, and the cessation of funding for the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Facility (CMRR), the first phase of which is in progress. The president’s budget included $100 million for the CMRR.

“The lab cannot be left with inadequate facilities,” Udall spokesperson Sam Simon said. “There are serious cost overruns and concerns about the CMRR project, but simply zeroing out its funding at the lab is not a strategy.”

Simon said Udall has been clear about wanting fewer nuclear weapons, but wants to see growth at the laboratory in other areas.

“We won’t reach our goals by slashing LANL without a plan in place to ensure that the labs remain a critical part of our national security,” Udall said in his statement.

Both Domenici and Udall approved the proposal’s $38 million boost for environmental cleanup at LANL, which would raise the budget to $200 million for next year.

The laboratory’s budget has remained fairly stable in the last few years at about $2.2 billion, laboratory officials said recently. This year, despite some grave concerns during the budget process last year, the budget is expected to be slightly higher than the previous year.

“The vote Wednesday is the beginning of a long process, and I believe the Senate can produce a bill that does a better job funding the labs,” U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said in a statement this morning.