Next year’s federal Energy and Water budget, which includes hundreds of millions for Idaho National Laboratory programs, has passed both houses of Congress and is heading to the president’s desk.
The bill has been through the conference committee process, where the House and Senate resolve the differences between their versions. The Senate passed the final version 92-5 on Wednesday, and the House passed it 377-20 on Thursday.
Both of Idaho’s senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, voted for the final version. In the House, U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, who is the chairman of the subcommittee that crafted the bill, also voted for it. U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador voted against the bill.
In a statement, Simpson both highlighted the INL-related funds in the bill and that the bill passed through the regular process. Congress has been moving this year toward passing more of the budget this way, rather than the continuing resolutions and “omnibus” packages that had become usual to fund the government.
“I have long pressed for Congress to fulfill its responsibility and provide budget certainty by passing appropriations bills on time,” he said. “I am pleased my Energy and Water legislation fulfills that responsibility and I look forward to passing more appropriations bills by the end of fiscal year 2018.”
The $147 billion bill funds the U.S. Department of Energy, veterans’ programs and the legislative branch, and is the first of three spending bills Congress hopes to approve before Oct. 1 to avoid a government shutdown, according to the Associated Press. The energy and water budget is for $44.6 billion.
That includes $420 million for the Idaho Cleanup Project and the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project, and $397 million for the Waste Isolation Pilot Project in New Mexico, which is where old nuclear waste is shipped after it is processed in Idaho, including $85 million for safety upgrades at the WIPP.
The Idaho Facilities Management account, which covers infrastructure maintenance and improvement at INL, is funded at $318 million, a $24 million increase over last year. Spending on INL’s Safeguards and Security Programs is up by $13 million, to $146 million, and the Light Water Reactor Sustainability program, which INL manages and which does research to extend the lives of America’s existing nuclear power plants, is funded at $47 million, the same as last year.
The Reactor Concepts Research, Development and Demonstration account is funded at $324 million, Simpson said, which is an $87 million increase. This includes $65 million to design a new fast neutron test reactor at INL, $100 million for advanced small modular reactor research and development and $20 million for a new program to develop very small “micro reactors” that could be installed at remote locations and military facilities.
The budget also includes $85.5 million to operate INL’s Advanced Test Reactor and additional funding for INL’s cybersecurity grid protection efforts.
The water section of the budget also includes a couple of Idaho-related items, such as a provision to allow recharge of the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer during flood releases and high flows at the Palisades Reservoir, and an extension of the Bureau of Reclamation’s authority to conduct feasibility studies on projects to address water shortages in the Snake, Boise and Payette river systems.