The $1.1 trillion spending bill passed by Congress this week contains the usual noxious helpings of political sausage. The size of the bill alone is enough to give one pause about just what the federal government has come to these days in terms of cost and expansiveness.
But whatever one's view of the bill overall, its passage does contain one provision that is important good news for our community. The measure includes $265 million for cleanup work at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant. That is actually $3 million more than President Obama originally requested, which is good in a couple of ways.
First, we'll take all the cleanup help we can get for the PGDP, which is winding down its operations and will have shed most of its 1,200-employee workforce by mid-year.
Second, the slight increase over the president's request in the context of a $1 trillion-plus spending measure clearly is not the sort of thing that is going to cause the president to not sign this bill into law.
The money is sorely needed on two fronts.
First, the previous budget stalemate and resulting exhaustion of funds caused much of the existing cleanup work at the plant to grind to a halt late last year. LATA, the DOE contractor currently working at the site, was forced to lay off 91 workers the day after Christmas. And it could have been worse, as 145 workers were originally slated for pink slips until some additional DOE money became available. That situation only compounds the employment woes being created by the layoffs at the PGDP itself.
Second is the broader issue of the much more massive cleanup and decommissioning of PGDP production buildings now that uranium enrichment operations have ceased in those facilities. There was considerable fear locally and by state officials that absent a budget resolution, DOE would simply padlock the PGDP site and leave decontamination work for some future generation to deal with.
Passage of the $265 million funding provision appears to provide support for both the current cleanup and new projects related to the plant closure. The appropriation is three times the roughly $82 million that was allocated in the previous budget for the ongoing cleanup work at the site. Further, according to Chris Pack, a spokesman for Congressman Ed Whitfield, the funding will be divided between future decontamination work that has yet to be bid, and other (existing) projects on the site.
If so, that should mean good news for the laid off LATA workers, who could be recalled when the new appropriation is freed up. It may also be good news longer term for experienced nuclear workers who are in the process of being laid off during the PGDP wind-down. Many of those workers would obviously qualify for the generally well-paying jobs that have been associated with cleanup efforts to date.
Muscling such appropriations through the congressional meat grinder is hard and treacherous work, especially in today's political environment. So credit and gratitude are owed to our congressional delegation for shepherding this one through.
As with all things Washington, working out the details of getting the work up and running may be slower than we would all wish, but there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel this time.