Originally created 05/20/05

Bill would postpone closing until 2006



The U.S. Energy Department's plan to close Savannah River Ecology Lab this fall could be postponed until June 2006, according to legislative language approved this week by the House Appropriations Committee.

"We think this would at least buy us time to come up with a more permanent solution," said John Stone, press secretary for Congressman Charlie Norwood, who added the language to the Energy and Water Appropriations Act.

The language about the lab, which would have to remain intact until the act is signed into law, calls for DOE to continue to fund the lab through the end of its current cooperative operating agreement with the University of Georgia. That agreement expires June 30, 2006.

The 54-year-old lab, operated by UGA at Savannah River Site, is one of the nation's oldest environmental research sites. Its entire $7.7 million annual appropriation was eliminated in the Energy Department's fiscal 2006 budget released in February.

If the budget gains approval as proposed, the flow of funds to the ecology lab would cease as early as Oct. 1, idling almost all of its 180 ecologists, researchers and support staff.

Mr. Norwood said in a news release Thursday the measure would provide only a temporary solution.

"I believe the inclusion of this language is the first step back in the right direction," he said. "This buys us the time to start working on a new agreement to keep this vital facility open permanently."

Mr. Norwood was backed by U.S. Reps. Gresham Barrett, R-S.C., and Jack Kingston, R-Ga., in attaching the language to the larger bill.

The Energy and Water Appropriations Bill will see action on the House floor next week, and the Senate will take it up in the coming months, Mr. Stone said.

Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.