|7:27 PM EDT||
Brian Higgins, D-NY 27th
Mr. HIGGINS. I thank my colleague and friend Mr. Reed.
Mr. Chairman, I rise in strong support of this amendment, which would provide an adequate level of funding for the Non-Defense Environmental Cleanup program.
The Non-Defense Environmental Cleanup program addresses the environmental legacy of former civilian and non-defense nuclear programs at sites across the country. The large quantity of hazardous and radioactive waste generated at these sites and the contamination that remains is one of our Nation's largest environmental liabilities.
The Department of Energy has an obligation to clean up this nuclear waste and protect local communities against risk to human health, safety, and the environment. And Congress has an obligation to fund the program at a sufficient level to clean up these sites thoroughly and expeditiously. However, quite simply, the amount of money appropriated in this bill is insufficient to do so.
Mr. Chairman, continuing to underfund the cleanup of these nuclear sites will delay and extend project schedules, cause commitments to State governments and local communities to be missed, and increase the overall costs in the long run.
In my community of western New York, the West Valley site was established in the 1960s in response to a Federal call for efforts to commercialize the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel from power reactors. The site ceased operations in 1972, and 600,000 gallons of high-level radioactive waste was left behind, posing a significant and enduring hazard.
The land is highly erodible and contains streams that drain into Lake Erie. We have already seen a leak on the site level into a migrating plume of radioactive groundwater. The consequences would be environmentally and economically dire if this radioactive waste makes its way into the Great Lakes, the largest source of freshwater in the world with 20 percent of all the freshwater supply on Earth.
For the past four decades, the progress in cleaning up the waste at West Valley has been stymied by perennial funding shortfalls. The insufficient funding in this bill will extend the first phase of the cleanup from 10 to 14 years. With maintenance costs at $30 million a year, an additional 4 years means $120 million in Federal funding will be wasted, which could be avoided if we properly fund this cleanup.
Mr. Chairman, we cannot jeopardize the irreplaceable natural resources of the Great Lakes or of the communities and resources near the other nuclear sites across the country by continuing to underfund this important cleanup program. Congress needs to maintain its commitment to clean up these sites, and it needs to take proper steps to ensure that our communities and our environment remain safe for future generations.
I am proud to work with my friend and colleague Mr. Reed on this important issue, and I urge support for this bipartisan amendment.
I yield back the balance of my time.