Fifteen years ago, the Department of Energy’s Idaho site was facing a bleak future. Then, President George W. Bush’s proposed budget included language that would “clean up and close down” the place known as the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory.
Thankfully, that didn’t happen, owing to Idaho’s Congressional delegation and state officials.
Working across party lines and with allies in industry, academia and government, Idaho’s elected leadership demonstrated the importance of the site—not just to Idaho, but to the entire nation. Perhaps more importantly, they presented a vision of what it could be in the future.
Three years later, in 2005, Idaho National Laboratory was born. It was designated by Congress as the nation’s lead nuclear research and development laboratory.
Since that time, INL has flourished.
• INL facilitates essential research and development for the nation’s existing and future commercial nuclear fleet.
• INL has also emerged as a world leader in cybersecurity, keeping the nation’s power plants and water and transportation systems safe from hackers who would do us harm.
• Lab facilities also support a broader array of clean energy research – including electric vehicle batteries, biofuels, and integration of renewables such as solar and wind into the nation’s power grids.
All the while, cleanup at the desert site, initiated by the 1991 Federal Facilities Agreement Consent Order, has steadily progressed. The overwhelming majority of cleanup milestones have been achieved on time or earlier.
Because of this demonstrated record of accomplishment, INL is one of Idaho’s leading economic engines. Laboratory contractor Battelle Energy Alliance is Idaho’s sixth-largest private employer with nearly 4,200 employees whose yearly salaries average $92,000. In 2016 INL spent $136 million with Idaho small businesses.
When you consider INL’s collaboration with industry and Idaho’s colleges and universities to educate and train students and develop a technology-savvy workforce, it’s easy to see how INL spending is a sound investment of taxpayer money at work.
We don’t yet know all the details, but President Trump’s proposed fiscal year 2018 budget looks to reshape the scope of the federal government. This is a good time to recall that the INL has endured the tests of time again and again as it has demonstrated that investing in its projects delivers economic value to the nation and world. So let’s all take a deep breath, and remember a few things:
First, it is Congress—not the President—which sets the federal budget. The President’s budget recommendation is but a first step in a very long and deliberative process.
Second, INL does work that is incredibly important to our communities, state and nation. And it does that work very well. As has been reported in local media, INL’s contractor earned 97 percent of its possible fee in each of the last two years. That’s an A+ performance in the areas of clean energy research and national security.
Just as in 2002, I am confident that Idaho’s Congressional delegation is well-positioned to ensure that these vital national assets continue to serve the nation by addressing our pressing energy and national security challenges.
And, as was the case in 2002, I am confident that state leaders understand the Laboratory’s importance to our economy. INL is one of Idaho’s crown jewels. It is embraced by the governor, lieutenant governor, legislators, mayors, county commissioners and citizens from every corner of the state.
Patience will serve Idahoans well. Let us commit to allowing the budget process to play out. Just as we recognize the necessity of INL’s clean energy and national security missions, and clean-up priorities, others do too. Let us continue to focus on the importance of having – and keeping – these vital national assets here in our backyard.
Casper is serving her first term as mayor of Idaho Falls.