COLUMN: Progress on Central Washington Issues
Hurry up and wait. That’s a well-known phrase that can often apply to the way Congress operates: gradual starts followed by sudden momentum. Every matter before Congress is considered in a process driven by a series of discussions and debates. Because of the way our legislative calendar works, July is typically crunch time in both Houses of Congress to accomplish the people’s legislative business. This year has been no different, and just last week, Congress made important progress on many critical federal issues for Central Washington. From preserving federal dams to Hanford cleanup to supporting work at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in the Tri-Cities, the legislative ball has moved forward in a significant way.
As Washingtonians are well aware, the federal government operates water infrastructure in our region that is critical to agriculture and our way of life. The House Appropriations Committee, of which I am a member, passed its annual Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill, which contains support for water infrastructure operations in the Columbia Basin and previously-approved phases of the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project.
The bill also continued implementation of the Columbia River Treaty with Canada, as well as operations and management resources for the Chief Joseph, Ice Harbor, and Lower Monumental Dams. One of the key provisions that I was glad to see included in the bill approved by the committee was language that prohibits any federal dollars from being spent to remove any federally-owned or operated dam unless the removal was previously authorized by Congress – including those on the Snake River.
The same legislation approved by the Appropriations Committee allocates funds for Hanford cleanup. I was pleased that the Committee rejected proposed cuts to Hanford by the Administration and restored funds for the Richland Operations Office. The bill also provides support for the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which is one of the largest employers in our region.
Last week, the entire House voted on the bipartisan National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes funding for our national security, including the largest pay increase for our troops in eight years. NDAA also provides authorization for Central Washington priorities including Hanford cleanup and improving firefighting capabilities at the Yakima Training Center.
Finally, there was a good news from the Administration last week on the Hanford Reach National Monument, which is a cultural and natural treasure in Central Washington. The Hanford Reach had been under review by the Administration in accordance with President Trump’s April executive order. In June, I worked with my colleagues in the House to recommend to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke that no changes be made to its status or boundaries. I was glad to see my concerns addressed by the Secretary’s announcement that the Hanford Reach is no longer under federal review.
In short, it may not always seem like Congress is moving quickly enough on matters that are important at home, but the flurry of legislative action last week showed real progress on Central Washington priorities.