Democratic News

Jun 16 2015

Cantwell Demands Answers on Hanford Progress, Columbia River Treaty

Sen. Cantwell Questions Two Nominees to the U.S. Department of Energy

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, questioned two nominees to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on Hanford cleanup and the Columbia River Treaty.

“The Office of Environmental Management accounts for about one-fifth of the department’s nearly $30 billion annual budget. The program is especially important to the state of Washington, which is home to the Hanford site, which is the largest, most complex and most expensive of all of the department’s cleanup sites,” Sen. Cantwell said.

During questioning, Sen. Cantwell pressed Dr. Monica Regalbuto—the administration’s nominee to lead DOE’s Environmental Management program—for commitments on cleaning up the highly radioactive plume under Hanford’s 324 building, a key priority given its proximity to groundwater and the Columbia River. Dr. Regalbuto committed to providing Cantwell additional details on the department’s plan to move forward.

Cantwell also pressed for updates on DOE’s plan to implement and institutionalize changes needed to respond to worker exposures to tank vapors at Hanford and to reduce injuries by providing lighter protective equipment. Cantwell also asked for a commitment to finish the Environmental Impact Study needed to start construction on the natural gas pipeline that would act as an alternative to diesel, for purposes of powering the site’s Waste Treatment Plant.

Meanwhile, Cantwell asked Mr. Jonathan Elkind—nominated to serve as DOE’s Assistant Secretary for International Affairs—to focus on moving the administration forward on Columbia River Treaty negotiations. Elkind noted the “clear sense of urgency” associated with the issue and said he would work to “facilitate forward motion” on the treaty, which is “gaining momentum” with DOE’s interagency partners.

The Columbia River Treaty between the U.S. and Canada was signed in 1961, and controls the water flows on the Columbia River for flood control and power generation.  As of September 2014, either the U.S. or Canada can terminate the Columbia River Treaty or seek changes by providing ten years notice to the other side. Neither party to the treaty has done so. In April 2015, Cantwell joined the 25 other members of the Pacific Northwest Congressional delegation in a letter to President Obama, asking the administration to move forward with a strategy for addressing the treaty.
 

Watch Sen. Cantwell's opening statement.

Read Sen. Cantwell’s full statement below:

“Thank you, Chairman Murkowski, for calling this hearing and for having these qualified nominees before us today.  

“Dr. Regalbuto has been nominated to lead the department’s Office of Environmental Management. The office is responsible for cleaning up the environmental contamination that resulted from five decades of nuclear weapons production. This is an extremely critical assignment, not only for the importance of cleaning up these sites, but for the complexity of the undertaking, and the sheer scale of the problem.  The Office of Environmental Management accounts for about one-fifth of the department’s nearly $30 billion annual budget. The program is especially important to the state of Washington, which is home to the Hanford site, which is the largest, most complex and most expensive of all of the department’s cleanup sites.  

“Dr. Regalbuto is extremely qualified for this position. She holds a doctorate in chemical engineering. And for the past 15 years, she has held increasingly senior positions at the Argonne National Laboratory and within the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy and Office of Environmental Management. For the past year, she has been the Associate Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management. So, I will have some very important questions for you today about both tank vapors and our process moving forward and the 324 building on the site. And I look forward to hearing your responses on that.

“I also want to welcome Mr. Elkind, who has been nominated to lead the department’s Office of International Affairs. This, too, is an extremely important position. It is responsible for managing the department’s international energy policy and international cooperation in energy, science and technology. So I look forward to asking him questions as well.

“So thank you, Madam Chair, for these important nomination hearings.”

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