President Donald Trump is proposing a boost in funding for nuclear weapons and fossil fuels programs at the expense of science and renewable energy initiatives.
The president’s fiscal year 2019 spending plan, released Monday, seeks $30.6 billion for the Department of Energy. That is a $2.6 billion increase over DOE’s requested budget for the current fiscal year.
About $1.1 billion of the increase in the DOE’s budget would go to the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees nuclear weapons programs, including work at Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories.
DOE spends more money in New Mexico — about $5 billion a year — than in any other state, and an increase in the department’s budget could be a financial shot in the arm for New Mexico’s struggling economy.
Energy Department officials said the president’s budget request revolved around the need to modernize the nation’s nuclear arsenal, with nearly $780 million more for weapons programs over fiscal year 2018.
About $100 million would be added for nuclear proliferation and $300 million for naval reactors over fiscal year 2018, under Trump’s spending plan.
An additional $81 million would go to fossil fuel development over fiscal year 2017 levels.
But prioritizing weapons and fossil fuels would come at the expense of funding for renewable energy and energy efficiency programs, which would take a $1.3 billion hit under the president’s budget from fiscal year 2017 levels.
Funds to clean up widespread pollution and contamination from nuclear waste would see a small uptick but remain relatively low, if not entirely stagnant, at many sites.
Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., called the Trump budget proposal dangerous, saying in an emailed statement that failing to invest in communities would weaken national defense.
“By mortgaging America’s diplomacy, education, health care, environmental programs, and families across the country — and ignoring the existential threat of climate change — we will ultimately sap our nation’s future strength, including the military,” he said.
Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., said in a statement that cuts in renewable energy investments would jeopardize jobs and economic opportunities crucial for New Mexico.
Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., said he was encouraged by some aspects of Trump’s proposed budget, including support of New Mexico’s federal facilities, but he said more study was needed to ensure steps are taken to reduce the nation’s debt and budget deficit.
Pearce is running unopposed for the Republican nomination for governor in the November election. Lujan Grisham is one of four candidates seeking the Democratic nomination.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry defended the budget in a teleconference, saying America’s nuclear weapons and laboratories have “not [been] prioritized the way the Trump administration feels we should have.”
“They haven’t been able to keep up with the modernization work that needed to occur in that space for maybe decades,” he said.
Steven C. Erhart, acting undersecretary for nuclear security and administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, said the proposed budget includes a commitment to work with Los Alamos National Laboratory to create 30 plutonium pits a year. The pits are the softball-size fission triggers for atomic weapons.
Erhart said the administration is still debating where the full mission of producing pits — 80 per year — will occur.
Undersecretary of Energy Mark Menezes said funding cuts to renewable energy programs and other science missions, some of which could see decreases of up to 22 percent, are being proposed because “goals have been met or exceeded.” He did not specify which renewable energy goals had been met.
The proposed budget also outlines an $80 million increase in cleanup for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad. The money would largely be used for a new ventilation system and allow work to eventually increase to levels that have not occurred at WIPP since the facility closed down in 2014 following a fire and radiation release.
The fiscal year 2019 budget proposes funding the shutdown of the DOE’s Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility in South Carolina in favor of a “dilute and dispose” treatment for excess weapons-grade plutonium. That waste would in turn be shipped to Carlsbad.
Across 23 DOE sites, the president is seeking a $180 million increase over last year for environmental cleanup, to a total of $1.7 billion. Funding at several sites, including Los Alamos National Laboratory, would see no increase.
A report released this month by the Government Accountability Office said DOE’s liability for environmental cleanup for areas contaminated by nuclear weapons work is at least $372 billion nationwide and is likely to grow.
The GAO report also found Trump’s planned spending on nuclear weapons modernization is well below estimated costs for the work.
Contact Rebecca Moss at 505-986-3011 or firstname.lastname@example.org.