Udall Stands Up for N.M. in Energy and Water Appropriations Bill

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall

WASHINGTON –U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., joined the Senate Appropriations Committee in approving a bill that includes significant support for important New Mexico installations and programs, including Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) and New Mexico water projects Thursday.

The bill includes record-level base funding for waste cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), and significant funding levels for WIPP operations and maintenance. Udall also included an amendment to the bill’s report language to improve voluntary water transfers in the Middle Rio Grande Basin Endangered Species Collaborative Program.

“This bill is very good news for New Mexico,” Udall said. “Funding for LANL cleanup is at a record level for base funding, and WIPP and several other programs were funded at the levels above the President’s request that I asked for. This bill will keep important cleanup and security programs on track at the labs, ensure our communities have key resources they need to protect our state’s water supplies, and keep major public works projects on track.”

“When I joined the Appropriations Committee, it was to give me the strongest possible platform to fight for New Mexicans in Washington,” Udall said. “The Energy and Water appropriations bill is critical to our state, and I was ready to fight for New Mexico.”

Udall also successfully staved off an effort to cut the B61 Life Extension Program, which would have affected Sandia and Los Alamos National laboratories. The Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee on Tuesday recommended flat funding for the B61, despite objections from Udall, who argued that flat funding was $168 million below his and the President’s request. The lower funding level could adversely impact the labs and the security of the nuclear weapons stockpile.

Udall worked with Subcommittee Chairwoman Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to find a solution, which allows for the $168 million to be restored with additional oversight. Udall and Feinstein successfully included an amendment today in the Appropriations Committee, which will provide for full funding for the B61 LEP contingent on the Secretaries of Energy and Defense certifying that project is both on schedule and on budget. This past spring, Sandia Director Paul Hommert testified to Congress that, “to date, we have not missed a single milestone in the program.”

“The B61 Life Extension Program is important for national security and to keep our nuclear weapons stockpile safe and secure. The amendment I offered will help the experts at the labs continue their work, and I will continue to fight for funds to support them. I was prepared to vote no on the overall bill if we couldn’t find a solution,” Udall said.

“My goal is still to restore these funds outright as we continue to work on the bill in the full Senate and Congress. But this amendment is a very good step in the right direction. I want to thank Senator Feinstein for working with me to reach an agreement.”

  • Key provisions for New Mexico in the Energy and Water Appropriations bill include:
  • LANL cleanup: $250 million ($35 million above the president’s budget request).  
  • WIPP cleanup: $222 million ($19 million above the president’s request).
  • DOE algae biofuels: $30 million ($14.5 million above the president’s budget request).
  • WaterSMART programs: $51 million, including $20 million for grants as requested by Udall ($16 million above the president’s request).

Udall added a second amendment to improve voluntary water transfers in the Middle Rio Grande Basin Endangered Species Collaborative Program. The goal is to develop a better long-term water supply for the region and manage endangered species like the silvery minnow in times of drought, thus reducing the need for more strict and inflexible regulatory actions and potentially avoiding litigation. Currently, federal water agencies attempt to meet the Endangered Species Act with short-term water acquisitions, and the current drought is making this very challenging.

The amendment urges the Collaborative Program to pursue a water-leasing program and the Bureau of Reclamation to develop a long-term water-supply program to better meet the environmental needs of the Basin than short-term acquisition.

It also encourages further restoration activities in the San Acacia reach of the Middle Rio Grande and planning for drier scenarios on that reach of the river. The promotion of voluntary water transfers and long-term drought planning to minimize water conflicts between agricultural and environmental needs were key recommendations of the 2012 Water Conference Udall co-hosted last summer with New Mexico State University.

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