By Bill Bartleman firstname.lastname@example.org
The Bush administration is considering cutting $1 billion from the U.S. Department of Energy's budget, including $400 million intended for cleanup of nuclear weapons facilities such as the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield pledged to fight to retain funding for work at the Paducah plant, which this year is scheduled to receive more than $90 million for cleanup and worker compensation programs.
The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that the administration is considering the cuts in the 2002 budget soon to be presented to Congress. Exactly how the cuts would affect cleanup work here was not clear.
McConnell has said he wants to meet with Bush soon to discuss cleanup funding and Department of Energy needs here.
Late Thursday, in response to the Wall Street Journal article and inquiries from reporters, McConnell issued a statement: "The cleanup effort in Paducah remains one of my top priorities. Just as we did under the previous administration, I expect to work with Senator (Jim) Bunning and Congressman Whitfield to secure as much funding as necessary to get the job done quickly and safely."
Gov. Paul Patton said last year that at least $100 million would be needed in each of the next 10 years to meet DOE commitments to clean up the plant by 2010. Patton has threatened a lawsuit against the federal government if the commitments aren't met.
The cleanup work involves contaminated buildings, soil, groundwater, old landfills and scrap piles.
Whitfield and eight others who make up the House Nuclear Cleanup Caucus sent a letter to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham this week asking that cleanup funds be increased, not decreased.
"We are concerned by recent press reports that this (environmental management) program may receive a funding cut or level funding that will not move the program forward, threaten the environmental health of our regions, and subject the department to lawsuits from our states," the letter stated.
An increase in funding is needed for the 2002 fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 to meet legally binding cleanup commitments made to states, the letter stated, adding that delays would only mean greater costs later.
The letter said the cleanup program "is at a critical point next year" and adequate funding is vital.
The Wall Street Journal said the president's budget office is proposing the cuts, but that Abraham opposes the cuts and has argued for aggressive cleanup.
Should executive branch cuts take place, Congress could still restore funding during budget deliberations.