Two subcommittees of the House Science and Technology Committee continue to investigate the Department of Energy’s (DOE) decision to eliminate funding for the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory (SREL) in Aiken, SC. Witnesses at a recent joint hearing of the Investigations and Oversight subcommittee and the Energy and Environment subcommittee included various senior Department of Energy officials.
Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Brad Miller (D-NC) opened the hearing stating: “the Savannah River Ecology Lab served the Department of Energy, the communities affected by the site and the Nation for more than 50 years. It was, by any financial measure, a very inexpensive lab to operate. It would be hard to find a better return on investment anywhere in the Federal science complex.” Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Nick Lampson (D-TX) said, “there is simply no reason for DOE to discontinue funding for SREL. There are funds available. There is work to be done. SREL has the personnel and the experience to do the work.”
Contrary to testimony offered by scientists during a prior hearing about the closure of SREL, Deputy Secretary of Energy Clay Sell said that it was “a mistake to suggest that SREL is unique…” from other universities with research laboratories, although he was not aware if any of the surrounding universities had actually competed against SREL for grants. He also stated that, “I do not want to suggest that we have been perfect. I do not want to suggest that we couldn’t have done things better. But I do firmly believe that we have acted in good faith.”
Controversy erupted during the hearing over whether or not Dr. Bertsch, former director of SREL, had been notified of the funding cut in May 2005. Dr. Bertsch has maintained that he was not advised of the complete zeroing out of SREL’s budget. He stated that he was given no details of how much funding would actually be provided beyond fiscal year (FY) 2006.
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