Cuts could help SRS operations


AIKEN - A White House resolution that would cut out millions in congressional pet projects might be good news for Savannah River Site.


"They're always having trouble coming up with the money because it's been earmarked," U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said Monday in Aiken. "There shouldn't be any excuses now for not funding these projects at a proper level."

On Thursday, President Bush signed a resolution that nullified more than 10,000 earmarks for special interests that could have eaten up federal money in the current fiscal year budget.

"Funding decisions should be based on the merits," the resolution stated.

The move could free up billions of dollars, said Mr. DeMint, who helped lead the Senate's charge to do away with earmarks - congressional spending requests that are not legally binding. These are often hidden in budgets where they can slip by without proper inspection, he said. While the president's resolution applies to the current fiscal year and only certain federal agencies, Mr. DeMint said he hoped to remove earmarks permanently.

Federal agencies are "afraid if they don't fund the projects, Congress will cut their spending," he said.

The senator was in Aiken for a speaking engagement and also met with top officials with Washington Group International, which owns the company that runs SRS for the Energy Department.

Mr. DeMint said he planned to meet with Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman to better explain the full extent of what is possible at the nuclear reservation.

"Very few people at DOE have the vision that we've got," Mr. DeMint said. "We need to paint that picture for them so they'll know."

The site isn't given enough credit, he said, for its experience with hydrogen, nuclear energy and ability to reprocess nuclear fuel.

Jack Herrmann, the vice president of communications for Washington Group, said the company would assist Mr. DeMint with the presentation before Mr. Bodman.

If the nuclear energy industry takes off like some believe, the Aiken-Augusta area is well equipped with thousands of experts because of SRS, Mr. Herrmann said, including hundreds with his company with experience in the nuclear power plant licensing process.

"South Carolina is in a unique position to take advantage of the commercial nuclear renaissance," he said. "We have the lion's share of the talent right here."

Mr. DeMint said he was eager to meet with Mr. Bodman because the Energy Department could make a decision on where to research futuristic nuclear power reactors by fall. SRS is competing for millions of dollars of work under the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership umbrella.

Whether the nuclear reservation benefits from slashed earmarks remains to be seen. The agency started reviewing them even before the president's resolution passed.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or