Aiken leaders discussed Savannah River Site funding issues with members of the Congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., this week but still are unsure of how two senators will vote on two bills related to the issue.
David Jameson, president and CEO of the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce, traveled to Washington, D.C. along with Will Williams from the Economic Development Partnership and Rick McLeod from the SRS Community Reuse Organization. The three met with U.S. Reps. Joe Wilson and Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., and Rep. Jim Clyburn, D.-S.C. They also met with U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, R-S.C.
Jameson and Williams said the meetings were productive. However, they said they are unsure of how the two senators will vote on the budget bill, which impacts environmental management programs at SRS; and the Defense Authorization Bill, which impacts the MOX facility at SRS.
“We did not get clarity on how Senators Graham or Scott would vote,” Jameson said.
“If this (budget bill) passes the Senate, then the next round of real work begins as the various Appropriations Committees meet to recommend funding for the details. The SRS message will need to be strongly advocated during this process.”
Williams added, “It is still unclear how Sens. Graham and Scott will vote. But both of them understand our concerns from the Aiken community. How that plays into their votes remains to be seen.”
The U.S. House passed both the budget and defense authorization bills last week. While this is a major step toward finalizing funding, the Senate will still have to approve both over the next few days.
McLeod said the information he gained from the trip makes him believe the Senate vote won't come as easily as the House vote.
“The Senate may be a tougher process,” McLeod said. “Many details and possible reprogramming of dollars will have to take place in the Appropriation Committees. There is still a lot of work to do to keep the various programs at SRS operating and to continue the tank waste removal momentum efforts moving forward.”
As McLeod said, if the Senate passes both bills, then the Appropriations Committee will be in charge of allocating funds to different programs, including programs at SRS. Site contractors are hoping for full funding that will allow SRS to continue Department of Energy missions such as high-level waste cleanup and construction of the Salt Waste Processing Facility.
While the meeting was productive, Jameson said that no one office appeared to have the “total picture,” but are trying to patch information together so informed decisions can be made.
“The bottom line is that we need stability for the SRS budget,” Jameson said. “The uncertainty is hurting our community and region.”
Williams added, “I believe through David, Rick and my efforts – along with the contractors at SRS and members of the Aiken Community – the message is getting to them. A budget, rather than another continuing resolution, is what SRS needs.”
Derrek Asberry is a beat reporter with the Aiken Standard news team and joined the paper in June. He is originally from Vidalia, Ga., and graduated from Georgia Southern University with a journalism degree in May 2012.
Editor's note: This version of this story has been updated to correct the name of Rep. Jim Clyburn, D.-S.C. The Aiken Standard regrets the error.