Tri-City Herald: Budget increase at Hanford a victory, but fight continues

Hanford cleanup money appears to be in good shape for fiscal year 2015, but it was a close call.

If it had not been for the rescue efforts of Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the Hanford budget likely would have been well below what is needed for cleanup deadlines, which are tenuous enough without being underfunded. The Obama administration proposed serious cuts to the Hanford budget, but Murray was able to get that money restored and then some.

She’s a fighter and we need that. As it turns out, the recently approved omnibus spending bill will increase funding for Hanford cleanup this year by almost $70 million above the president’s initial request, for a total of almost $2.2 billion. Murray said the funding in the bill is a “critical win” for Hanford and the entire state.

She’s right. This is a victory, and we hope Murray and our other state delegates can continue the fight for next year’s budget. It does no good to have enough money one year but less the next. Hanford cleanup is a long-term mission and it requires a long-term funding stream.

Included in this compromise bill is $941 million for the Department of Energy’s Hanford Richland Operations Office, which is an increase of $93 million over the administration’s fiscal 2015 budget proposal.

This is crucial because the operations office is responsible for all Hanford cleanup work except for managing radioactive waste in the underground tanks and the vitrification plant being built to treat the waste.

Rep. Doc Hastings, as always, did his part in the House to boost the Hanford cleanup funding, but Murray had to manage the heavy lifting in the Senate. The omnibus spending bill is possible because of the bipartisan budget deal that Murray reached a year ago with Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House budget committee.

Next year she will no longer be budget chairwoman on the Senate Appropriations Committee, but she still will be a member. We are trusting she still will have enough clout to keep support going for Hanford.

The deal she managed with Ryan prevented another government shutdown and restored stability to the federal budget process. Dollar amounts in the bill include: $544 million for central Hanford cleanup; $378 million for cleanup along the Columbia River and some related work; $20 million for community and regulatory support; $667 million for the vitrification plant and $545 million for the tank farms.

Murray’s legislative muscle saved Hanford cleanup money this fiscal year and we are impressed and relieved. Unfortunately, we must already look to 2016 and cross our fingers. At least we know that if Hanford budget cuts are proposed, Murray will do her best to restore the funding.