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Udall, Heinrich Secure Provision to Prohibit Nuclear Safety Board Staff Cuts & Reorganization

Also secure language to require DOE to brief Congress on information sharing order within 30 days

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) announced that they have secured two provisions in the final FY 2019 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill to protect the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) and its important safety mission. One Udall-Heinrich provision prohibits the use of any appropriated funds to carry out the DNFSB’s proposed reorganization, which included a significant reduction in the board’s staff, unless such a proposal is later specifically authorized by law. The second Udall-Heinrich provision directs the Department of Energy (DOE) to brief Congress within 30 days about DOE’s information sharing order (Order 140.1), and expresses Congress’ concerns about the potential impacts of the order.

Last week, Udall and Heinrich wrote to the leadership of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water requesting that the final bill include language to prohibit funds from being used to support the DNFSB’s reorganization plan announced by Acting DNFSB Chairman Bruce Hamilton. Udall and Heinrich also requested language regarding DOE Order 140.1.

“The DNFSB provides essential oversight to maintain safety for workers at New Mexico’s national security labs, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, and the surrounding communities. Our provisions will help keep the DNFSB a strong and independent watchdog for the safety of New Mexicans and the long-term health of our DOE facilities,” Udall and Heinrich said. 

“With the inclusion of our measure regarding the DNFSB’s proposed reorganization, this bill prohibits the board’s leadership from moving forward with such a sweeping proposal – which would likely result in staff reductions – unless Congress has vetted and authorized it. This prohibition, which guarantees Congress’ oversight role over the board, is especially important given the Trump administration’s previous efforts to weaken the DNFSB and even terminate the board entirely. And this bill also demonstrates that Congress shares the widespread concerns about DOE’s information sharing order, which, on its face, appears to restrict the amount of information the board can access for its critical safety oversight work at DOE sites,” Udall and Heinrich continued.

“These provisions are a major step forward, and we will continue to work to make sure that the DNFSB has the resources, support, and independence necessary to carry out the complex and extremely serious work that the board does. We believe the DOE Order should be halted until stakeholders are assured there will be no reduction in safety, and we will do everything we can to ensure there is an active safety watchdog overseeing DOE sites in New Mexico and across the country,” Udall and Heinrich said.

The DNFSB is an independent body of expert board members and staff created by Congress in 1988 to conduct safety reviews at DOE nuclear facilities and offer public recommendations to the president and Secretary of Energy periodically on important projects and procedures needed to ensure workers and the public are protected from dangerous nuclear materials. 

Udall and Heinrich’s bill language blocking the DNFSB reorganization is on page 53 of the House-Senate conference report.

Udall and Heinrich’s report language expressing concern with Order 140.1, and directing DOE to provide a briefing to Congress on the order is on page 52 of the Joint Explanatory Statement of the Committee of Conference.