Democratic News

Concerned that a Bush administration proposal to revamp federal cleanup efforts at contaminated Department of Energy (DOE) sites could undercut that work, Senate Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman today convened a hearing to examine progress in implementing the DOE’s cleanup initiative. Earlier this year, the Bush administration in its budget request to Congress proposed scaling back existing commitments to clean up DOE sites, and instead create an $800 million pot of funding for new cleanup commitments. Attempting to achieve clarity about how that program will work, Bingaman inserted language in the Defense Authorization bill calling on the DOE to make public how funding decisions will be made. In addition, Bingaman called on federal and state officials to update the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on progress in implementing DOE’s accelerated cleanup initiative and changes proposed to the department’s Environmental Management Science and Technology Program. Among those testifying today was Peter Maggiore, secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department. Bingaman delivered the following remarks at today’s hearing. “The Department of Energy (DOE) has responsibility for a massive complex of research, development, testing, and production facilities that, over the years, have become contaminated and have generated enormous amounts of radioactive and hazardous wastes. DOE cleanup sites are located in more than half of the fifty states, and estimates for the cleanup of the DOE complex have ranged as high as two hundred billion dollars and as long as 70 years. Secretary Abraham and the Administration are to be commended for their commitment to accelerating this cleanup effort and completing it for far less cost to the taxpayer. “However, concerns have been raised about the Administration’s proposed approach for accelerating cleanup. I, for one, have been concerned that the $800 million accelerated cleanup fund proposed by the Administration could be viewed as an incentive to encourage state regulators to relax site cleanup standards. In addition, I am uncomfortable with the idea of appropriating such a large sum to DOE in the absence of a firm plan for expending the funds. That is why I worked through the Defense Authorization bill to require DOE to establish and publish the criteria that it plans to use to make funding decisions. “DOE has also proposed to sharply reduce funding for the Environmental Management science and technology program, and to transfer responsibility for more fundamental environmental research to the DOE Office of Science. I believe that we must continue to develop new technologies to improve our ability to clean up sites in the DOE complex and across the country. I am anxious to hear about the Department’s plans for the EM science and technology program, and hope the Department shares my views about the importance of providing new tools for the cleanup of environmental contamination. “We have with us today an excellent slate of witnesses. I look forward to a hearing the testimony of the witnesses, understanding where DOE stands in its negotiations with the states, and engaging in a thorough discussion of the issues I have raised.”