Twenty-one lawmakers on Monday said President Obama cannot draw from a plutonium-conversion plant’s construction fund to keep the project on hold.
The Energy Department’s 2015 budget proposal calls for pausing work on the unfinished plant, which would convert bomb plutonium into mixed-oxide reactor fuel at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. The MOX facility construction began after Washington and Moscow agreed to begin in 2018 to eliminate plutonium from their stockpiles.
Congress “explicitly” designated funds in fiscal 2014 for “construction” of the facility, the legislators said in a letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. Missive signers included South Carolina’s seven House representatives, as well as lawmakers from Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington state.
“The funds were not authorized or appropriated for cold-standby, and we request they be used only for construction as Congress intended,” the letter says. “The intent of Congress is being ignored and as a result we may see a usurpation of Congress’ power of the purse.”
The lawmakers added they had “never seen” how the Army Corps of Engineers determined that the MOX plant would cost $30 billion to build and maintain, and they pressed for disclosure of the calculations.
“Moreover, we request a study to analyze the cost associated with placing MOX into cold-standby, which is estimated to be between $700 and $900 million,” they wrote.
Meanwhile, construction of the MOX facility is proceeding, using current-year funds, the Augusta Chronicle reported on Monday.
“We continue building the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility under our [fiscal year] 2014 budget and direction,” Kelly Trice, president of Shaw Areva MOX Services, said in a statement to site workers.
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Given the Senate's inaction on the continuing budget resolution (so far), the White House "said it has begun to work with agencies to prepare for the possibility of a large swath of the federal workforce being furloughed without pay beginning at midnight." Even if a shutdown occurs, however, "Senate procedures will allow the chamber to approve the CR with only a handful of Democrats in support by Sunday morning. Of the roughly 900,000 federal employees who were subject to furloughs in agencies’ most recent calculations, most would not be materially impacted as they do not work on weekends."
President Obama has called for a "full review" of the hacking that took place during the 2016 election cycle, according to Obama counterterrorism and homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco. Intelligence officials say it is highly likely that Russia was behind the hacking. The results are not necessarily going to be made public, but will be shared with members of Congress.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) are threatening to block the spending bill—and prevent the Senate from leaving town—"because it would not extend benefits for retired coal miners for a year or pay for their pension plans. The current version of the bill would extend health benefits for four months. ... Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Thursday afternoon moved to end debate on the continuing resolution to fund the government through April 28. But unless Senate Democrats relent, that vote cannot be held until Saturday at 1 a.m. at the earliest, one hour after the current funding measure expires."
The South Korean parliament voted on Friday morning to impeach President Park Geun-hye over charges of corruption, claiming she allowed undue influence to a close confidante of hers. Ms. Park is now suspended as president for 180 days. South Korea's Constitutional Court will hear the case and decide whether to uphold or overturn the impeachment.