Today, two bills backed by U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) that would help boost hydropower production and preserve Hanford's B Reactor received positive hearings in the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (ENR).
The conversation in support of Cantwell's bills occurred during two separate hearings today. First, the full ENR Committee considered S. 545, the Hydropower Improvement Act of 2013. The bipartisan legislation is led by Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the ENR Committee's top Republican, and Ron Wyden (D-OR), the committee's chairman, along with committee members Cantwell and James Risch (R-ID), and Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Mark Begich (D-AK).
U.S. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA-05), sponsor of companion legislation to S. 545 -- the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013 (H.R. 267) -- spoke in support of her legislation at today's Senate hearing. The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed H.R. 267 on February 13, 2013.
During the afternoon, the ENR Subcommittee on National Parks considered the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act (S. 507), which would preserve Hanford's B Reactor as part of a new National Historical Park. The bipartisan legislation is led by Cantwell and ENR Committee member Lamar Alexander (R-TN). Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Tom Udall (D-NM) are original cosponsors of the bill, along with ENR Committee member Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM). Congressman Doc Hastings (R-WA-04), Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, oversees the committee of jurisdiction on the House side and has introduced similar legislation (H.R. 1208).
"Designating the B Reactor as a National Historical Park would expand visitor access and preserve a key site in our nation's history," Cantwell said. "I am encouraged by today's discussion in support of the bill and look forward to moving forward towards a committee vote."
Next, both bills must receive votes of approval from the ENR Committee, during business meetings yet to be scheduled, before going to the full Senate for consideration.
"I so appreciate the Congresswoman being here today to shed light on how important this is to the House of Representatives," Cantwell said at today's hearing on the Hydropower Improvement Act, with Rep. McMorris Rodgers. Watch a video of Cantwell's remarks. "And our former colleague, Senator [Larry] Craig [R-ID] and I had worked on some reforms on hydro re-licensing, which paid dividends in the end. That's what we're trying to do, to create this simplicity to this process. Get the questions answered, but do so on the front end instead of the back end in a legal process. So I so appreciate your leadership on this issue in the House."
S. 545 would encourage expanded hydropower production by removing some licensing barriers for small hydropower development. It would also require a study on the feasibility of a streamlined two-year permitting process at existing dams and pumped storage projects, a move that could help boost hydropower investment across the nation. The bill does not provide authorization to build large new dams. For more information on the legislation, click here.
Hydropower is the largest source of clean, renewable energy in the United States, and Washington state produces almost a third of the nation's total, more than any other state. Roughly 75 percent of Washington's electricity is generated from hydropower, and the same dams irrigate Eastern Washington's farms which produce top crops such as apples, cherries, hops, and wheat. Washington state also has huge potential to produce electricity with small in-stream hydropower technologies by harnessing water flowing in the state's numerous irrigation canals and conduits.
As a top hydro-producer in the nation, Washington state is poised to build on its existing capability to generate more clean, renewable power without building new dams. Much of the nation's new hydropower capacity can be gained by maximizing existing infrastructure and through the use of new technologies, such as upgrading turbines to produce more power with the same volume of water. Other growth opportunities include water power applications that don't require large dams, such as in-conduit devices, hydrokinetics and closed-loop pumped storage. At present, 97 percent of America's 80,000 dams don't produce electricity.
Producing homegrown renewable energy can help reduce the nation's dependence on energy imports, improve the security and reliability of the electric grid by promoting distributed generation, and avoid emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants. It can also help keep electricity rates low for consumers, helping to attract new residents and businesses to the region.
Cantwell has been a consistent champion for expanded hydropower production. During the 112th Congress, she led similar legislation that cleared the Energy Committee with her support but never received a vote by the full Senate.
Cantwell's other bill that received support today, S. 507, would create a National Historical Park at Manhattan Project-related sites at Hanford as well as Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Los Alamos, N.M. The Hanford sites that would be included in the new park include the historic B Reactor, the first full-scale nuclear reactor ever built. A National Historical Park designation would give Hanford sites the same status as Independence Hall, Valley Forge and Abraham Lincoln's birthplace.
"The Department of Energy is proud of its Manhattan Project heritage and recognizes that this partnership with the National Park Service would bring one of the most significant accomplishments of 20th century America to a wider public audience," said Ingrid Kolb, Director of the Department of Energy's Office of Management, at today's hearing. "The establishment of a National Historical Park will represent a new era for the Department of Energy, particularly in certain areas of our sites that have been largely off-limits to the public."
Currently designated a National Historic Landmark, elevating the B Reactor's status to a National Historical Park would ensure it will not be torn down and increase public access to the historic reactor, helping to attract more visitors to the Tri-Cities. Last year, B Reactor tourism brought $1.5 million to the Tri-Cities economy, according to the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau.
The introduction of S.507 builds on years of efforts to preserve the historic B Reactor. Last Congress, Cantwell and Murray were lead sponsors of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act (S. 3300), and Congressman Hastings introduced a similar bill (H.R. 5987) in the House.
In 2004, Cantwell, Murray and Hastings championed legislation into law directing the National Park Service to conduct a study on the potential for developing and utilizing the B Reactor and other Manhattan Project facilities as historical sites. That study, finalized in 2011, laid the groundwork for today's legislation.