WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved a $268 billion defense authorization bill on Friday that restores $71 million in funding for the Savannah River Site.
The measure, which passed by a margin of 94-4, also contains $22 million for a barracks renovation project at Fort Gordon.
An amendment to the bill establishes a pilot program under which SRS would be able to keep up to $40 million earned from sales of excess property. Such revenues are currently returned to the federal Treasury - a practise Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., didn't agree with.
If the amendment survives scrutiny by House members in conference, it will let SRS and other Department of Energy facilities use such monies for environmental cleanup instead.
"This amendment is a triple winner for the nation's taxpayers," Mr. Thurmond said in a statement. "My amendment will reduce the cost of managing assets within the Department of Energy, it will help reduce the deficit, and it will help to accelerate the cleanup efforts."
Last winter, President Clinton proposed cutting $118 million from the SRS budget during the fiscal year that starts on Oct. 1. The Senate defense bill would restore $71 million of that reduction, about $9 million less than the defense bill passed last month by the House.
Under the Senate bill, $48 million would be used to continue stabilizing radioactive material left over from the production of nuclear weapons. Another $15 million would go toward expanding the capacity of the Defense Waste Processing Facility, and $8 million would be used to upgrade the site's tritium recycling operation.
Georgia and South Carolina lawmakers are looking to the SRS funds to help stabilize the work force at the site, while the Fort Gordon project is expected to create 140 construction jobs.
House and Senate conferees will work out the differences between the two defense bills. Sens. Thurmond and Max Cleland, D-Ga., were among the senators named to the conference committee.
(Staff Writer Karin Schill contributed to this report.)
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