U.S. Sen. Udall Presses Energy Secretary Brouillette On Massive Cut For Los Alamos Environmental Cleanup

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall


WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, pressed U.S. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette Wednesday on the Trump administration’s attempt to slash funding for environmental cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory in the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Fiscal Year 2021 budget request and failure to request funding for road infrastructure critical to safe transport of material to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in southeastern New Mexico.

Udall began his questioning by holding Brouillette to account for failing to recognize DOE’s responsibility to New Mexico communities.

“I think your budget proposal for environmental cleanup at Los Alamos … is the worst number I have seen in over 20 years in Congress,” Udall said. “[Congress] provided last year $220 million and you are proposing a $100 million cut. We all know the job is far from finished. Clearly, these kinds of budgets will not stand through Congress, but it is a reflection of the Administration’s attitude toward the valuable role that New Mexico plays. 

“Right now the [Trump] administration is asking more and more of New Mexico, but prioritizing it less and less,” Udall continued. “People in our state—including our governor and local leaders in northern New Mexico—have noticed and they are not happy. I cannot overstate how disappointed I am with this. The Trump administration is asking Congress to increase nuclear weapons work while slashing cleanup funding for the legacy waste. It sends the wrong signal to the communities in places like New Mexico who have worked so hard on these projects, often at the expense of their health, as you know. … We’re talking about cleanup of radioactive waste.

“I’m not going to ask you to justify that cut for Los Alamos because it cannot be justified. I just want you and the Chairman and Ranking Member to hear how we feel about it in New Mexico.”

Udall turned his questioning to state road and infrastructure funding tied to WIPP.

“As you are aware, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is located in a very busy part of the state – right in the middle of an oil boom – with tremendous impacts to our roads,” Udall said. “You can imagine that sending trucks full of radioactive waste to WIPP deserves a great deal more investment in the safety and security of our roads. While we thought there would be some promise to see assistance in the budget, we were disappointed to see nothing there.

“Will DOE work to allocate economic assistance funds in lieu of a budget line item? And will DOE work with Congress to fund this program, perhaps in a way that helps other states like Tennessee, to avoid this misguided earmark problem?” Udall asked.

“I would be happy to work with you, to work with the chairman, to work with the Ranking Member, and others to find an appropriate way forward,” Brouillette responded. “If this is something that the committee chooses to fund and something that you see as a priority, you have my assurance that I’ll work closely with you to appropriately fund the effort.”

Udall then asked Brouillette to detail how DOE plans to reverse a misguided effort to undermine independent oversight of nuclear waste by restricting access of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) to nuclear waste facilities.

The DOE order to strip DNFSB access to nuclear facilities, issued in February 2019, would have severely limited the body’s oversight capabilities held for nearly two decades. In last year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Udall helped secure language directing the DOE to reverse the damaging policy and restore effective oversight to the DNFSB.

“I know you are aware that Congress included legislation in last year’s defense authorization act that reversed DOE efforts to limit the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board’s access to people, information and facilities … Do you have a meeting set to convene with the Safety Board and discuss next steps?” Udall asked.

“Yes sir, I am very much aware of the NDAA language,” Brouillette responded. “…the NDAA language is very clear, we are in the process of revising the order, and I will be meeting with the DNFSB and we will have this resolved within the next two weeks.”

The full exchange is available HERE, with Udall’s questioning beginning at 1 hour and 23 minutes.