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Roger This: The Good News About The Environmental Management Budget At LANL

on February 21, 2016 - 10:41am
Los Alamos Daily Post
The good news about the Environmental Management Budget at LANL.

But first the bad news:

It’s all about the number.

Anybody interested in environmental issues at Los Alamos National Laboratorywas waiting for thenumber. The number this year is 189.

That’s $189 million, of course, and it’s the amount of money in the President’s request to Congress for funding environmental programs at LANL for next year. (The number is actually $189.6, but I’m rounding down because it’s the millions part of the number that counts, not the rounding.). The number could be found many times, even though it was buried inside thousands of pages of summary tables and six volumes of detailed budget justifications.

The 189 number for FY 2017 is strangely familiar. It’s the same amount as the FY 2015 appropriation last year. Also $189 million was the budget request for last year, a number that was reduced to $185 million in the FY 2016 appropriation this year. What a coincidence! The repetition of the 189 number for the request makes one think that a recursive number probably takes a lot less thought, perhaps none, abouthow much the next budget should differ from one year to anotherwith so many variables to consider.

Back in better days, the FY 2014, the number was 219; and 224 was actually appropriated. Earlier in this cycle, Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn said more was needed than the current levels and that he would like to see something around 255. The number is important, whether or not Congress buys it or changes it, because the number is the starting point, the reference marker that with few exceptions goes up or down in tandem with the rest of the budget.

How does LANL get a better number?  Sometimes it’s hard to say that there is any effective public input, that almost any effort is wasted to try to move a mountain.

Doug Hintze, LANL’s first Environmental Management Field Office manager, in charge of splitting the environment portfolio away from current supervision by the National Nuclear Security Administration and LANL, offered some pointers about the timing involved in influencing environmental decisions at DOE.

“The FY 2017 budget has numbers and scope attached that was submitted last autumn, so now we can make the impact for the determination for FY 18,” he said, speaking to the Northern New Mexico Citizen’s Advisory Board at the end of January. “That’s what you need to be thinking about.” Essentially, he said that by the time anybody in the public sees the actually budget request number, they are already eight or nine months too late to do anything about it. In other words, public efforts must be made in the next few months, or they won’t influence the process for the FY 2018 budget that will come out at this time next year.

Something elsethat he said is even more problematic. And that has to do with the LCE, the lifecycle cost estimate, which is a comprehensive appraisal of what needs to be done and how long it will take to do it. To make an effective argument and arrive at proportionate annual share there has to be a measured plan based on reality.

There is a problem about that, too.Even if you start early, it won’t do any good unless you know what the plan is. “We’re the only site that doesn’t have an LCE,” Hintze said.  “We have one from 2008.”  Hintze referred to a new baseline in preparation at headquarters, one that was imminent, which still has not been released. “You have to keep pounding us to get that life cycle cost estimate,” Hintze said.

It may go without saying in some quarters, but other quarters seem not recognize at all that Los Alamos is not making any progress in the cleanup department, regardless of who is in charge.

While not fully responsible for its own fate, considering the conflicting congressional and executive branch dictates that must be resolved,LANL has now missed a fundamental commitment to the state and people of New Mexico (a Consent Ordered cleanup deadline) and shares responsibility for an environmental fiasco of the first order (a radiological incident at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southern New Mexico).

Although progress has been made in environmental cleanup, as EM and LANL routinely claim, the current number can’t be right and everything about this picture has to be suspect.

And now for the good news…

Sorry, we seem to be running out of time.