Jun 26, 2007

Senate spending bill restores LANL funds

By ANDY LENDERMAN | The New Mexican
June 26, 2007

Proposed funding safeguards many nuclear weapons programs on the chopping block

A Senate spending bill with big implications for New Mexico came out “as well as we could have hoped for,” U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said Tuesday.

The Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development on Tuesday passed a $32 billion spending measure for the Department of Energy, which oversees Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories, along with the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The proposed funding would significantly restore many nuclear weapons programs that were on the chopping block. Now the stage is set for negotiations between the House and the Senate.

Bingaman has visited with U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who chairs the Senate subcommittee that pays for energy and water projects.

The Senate version would come close to President Bush’s budget request, which is much more generous than cuts proposed by the House Appropriations Committee.

For example, the Senate version spends $6.49 billion on nuclear weapons activities nationwide, including several programs at Los Alamos. The president’s budget request was $6.5 billion and the House proposed $5.9 billion — a move that sent layoff worries into overdrive in Northern New Mexico.

Still, Bingaman noted, Bush’s budget request represents a $90 million funding cut at Los Alamos and an $80 million cut at Sandia.

Bingaman has known Dorgan since the North Dakota resident was elected to the Senate in 1992. They serve together on a separate committee, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which Bingaman chairs.

“I think he was certainly receptive,” Bingaman said. “I think that the bill that the subcommittee reported today pretty closely tracks the administration’s request for funds in the areas that will impact both Los Alamos … and Sandia. I think that will still involve a cut from current year funding.”

When asked how he defended the lab, Bingaman said, “Obviously the important issue is, are they doing work that’s important for the country? And that’s the case you make, is that they are doing important work and it needs to be supported.”

The current budget at Los Alamos is about $2.1 billion. In 2006, about $1.85 billion came from the Department of Energy and the rest from agencies doing business with the lab. In comparison, the president asked for $1.83 billion in the 2008 fiscal year from the Department of Energy for the lab.

U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., is the ranking minority member of Dorgan’s committee. Domenici said he felt wonderful after Tuesday’s bill was released. “The nuclear deterrent is fully covered,” Domenici said. “Science-based stockpile stewardship is recognized and funded. Los Alamos and Sandia, and for that matter, Lawrence Livermore, all got their basic budgets funded, more or less. … And a number of new programs were started that will be included in the work of the various laboratories in this year.”

Security upgrades at Los Alamos totaling $67 million were included in the Senate bill.

Bingaman noted Tuesday’s Senate numbers “are the beginning point for the negotiations with the House of Representatives.”

For weapons programs nationwide, the Senate numbers represent an increase of $213 million above the 2007 fiscal year, according to Domenici’s office.

The House numbers would be a $396 million cut to weapons programs compared to the 2007 fiscal year. The overall House bill cut weapons programs and moved more money into energy research. The Senate version spends more money than the House version.

Both sides must agree later this year before sending the bill to the president.

The Senate subcommittee fully funded a $95.5 million request for a new nuclear chemistry building, called the Chemistry and Metallurgy Facility, at Los Alamos. The House eliminated that request. The Senate also suggested spending $66 million on the Reliable Replacement Warhead program, which the House zeroed out. And the Senate zeroed out money for a so-called Consolidated Plutonium Center while suggesting $222 million for environmental cleanup, an increase compared to the $139 million in the president’s request.

“Domenici does some good things, such as helping to add funding for cleanup at LANL,” Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico said. “But he is increasing the odds that Los Alamos will become the nation’s permanent plutonium pit production center by fully funding pit manufacturing and a giant new plutonium lab. He should be pressuring LANL to grow up and change instead of always feeding his baby the same old tired formula of nuclear weapons dollars.”

A limited number of pits are made at Los Alamos now, and it’s the only place in the country where that work supporting the nuclear weapons stockpile occurs, the lab director has said.

“I think the decision about the future plutonium production or pit production is still to be made,” Bingaman said. “And I’ve been clear that I don’t think we should build any new pit production facility at Los Alamos. I think that if the determination is made that we need any kind of new facility, it should be elsewhere.”

That’s because Los Alamos’ strength is as a science lab, not a production center, he said.

Contact Andy Lenderman at 995-3827 or alenderman@sfnewmexican.com.


Anonymous said...

Thank goodness we have at least one Senator that is motivated by more than just money flow. Senator Bingaman is 100% on target when he says we do NOT need a Pu pit production facility in northern New Mexico...jobs or no jobs. The material is too dangerous, and the legacy that a disaster related to such work could leave would be a ball and chain around the necks of countless future generations to come. That's way too high a price to pay for a few more jobs today. And yes, I do work at the Lab and have worked there for decades.

Anonymous said...

Yeehaaa! Make way for the money train!

Anonymous said...

The bottom half is very interesting. Can everyone spell B O N E H E A D ?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Last modified Tuesday, June 26, 2007 12:36 PM MDT


Compiled by ROGER SNODGRASS Monitor Assistant Editor

Domenici predicts 'real relief'

At the end of a radio news conference Monday, Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., was asked if there was any hope that the Senate would reverse budget cuts contained in a House appropriation bill that was approved last week.

"Without getting into specifics," Domenici said, "I don't believe we can possibly cut Los Alamos in the method and manner suggested by the House."

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development will take action Tuesday on the Senate version of the bill.

"My prediction would be we're going to get some real relief in this bill that we are going to produce by (tonight)," Domenici said.

The Senate appropriation committee as a whole is now scheduled to take up the subcommittee's recommendation Thursday.

Senate floor action on the bill as it comes out of committee is now scheduled for July 9. Any differences with the House version would have to be resolved before going to the White House for either a signature or a veto.

The House bill is almost certain to be approved in its current form after the July 4 recess. The measure added $900 million overall to the administration's proposal for the fiscal year, starting Oct. 1, but cut $630 million for nuclear weapons programs, including about $400 million for LANL.

The president has threatened to veto any bill that resembles the House version. He cited the budget increase and the cuts in nuclear weapons among his reasons.

Sandia incident mistakenly blamed on LANL

Rep. Peter Visclosky, D-Ind., had a powerful comeback in his debate with Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., on the House floor last week. Only problem, it was about the wrong national laboratory.

Udall proposed an amendment that would have restored $192 million to the LANL budget.

During a mini-debate, Visclosky cited eight security incidents between December 1999 and January 2007 at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and then verged into a tale of mistaken identity.

"But the breach that caused me and should cause every member here the most heartburn is what happened to a gentleman by the name of Shawn Carpenter. Mr. Carpenter worked at Los Alamos," Visclosky continued.

"Mr. Carpenter worked at Los Alamos, Mr. Carpenter was concerned about security at Los Alamos and Mr. Carpenter went to the Federal Bureau of Investigation to express his concern."

Shawn Carpenter, as was reported in state newspapers and Time magazine, worked at Sandia National Laboratories, not LANL.

After being terminated for "insubordination" in his efforts to track foreign hackers, he won a $4.6 million settlement against Sandia, not LANL, as Visclosky went on to say, while the "gentleman" who fired him got a bonus.

Visclosky's spokesperson, Justin Kitsch, acknowledged Visclosky's error Monday, saying it was "a complete accident."

He added, "He was making the point that there are problems at LANL."

Anonymous said...

If you want science at LANL, the NNSA has to be deleted or the lab has to split into 2 pieces. There is no other choice.

The creation of the NNSA was a mistake. Science at LANL has been on a downhill ride since the NNSA took over. NNSA officials have been heard to say that 'their' DOE Labs have no business doing scuence. That's what the DOE office of science is for, in the NNSA's opinion.

Are you listening, Nuclear Watch and Mr. Mello? Every time you weaken LANL, you strengthen the NNSA and those who would eliminate science at LANL, and grow LANL's role as "Rocky Flats South". LANL is not going away. It's going to be here, doing something, long after you and I are gone. The money is just too good for our politicians to pass up. They don't much care what LANL does; they want the money coming here to Northern New Mexico.

If you just keep beating on LANL, you are going to get that pit production facility you hate, and you will lose any chance of having the science lab you *claim* you want. If you turn your guns on the NNSA, you might just get your science lab. In picking LANL as your enemy, you have foolishly picked the wrong adversary. It's time you showed a bit more political intelligence than you have in the past.

Anonymous said...

Here we go again: Now we must wait until next month to hear about our funding, then we wait until Sept. to see how many RIF's may happen and then FY08 we do it all over again ...welcome to LANS, what a Country....

Anonymous said...

They haven't resored anything, only talkin points the REAL funding is yet to come.......The media hype is so screwed up, I wonder if they truly understand the Funding process.......There are still many gamers to be played, by our Politicians...

Anonymous said...

Yippy-kai-Yaa! Time for LANS to consider hiring a bunch of new upper level managers from Bechtel! Better start planning on how to hand out the bonuses for everyone at the top because Daddy wants a brand new Porsche with vanity plates.