Johnson: Cuts could be bad for HomestakeSen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., is worried that the push to cut federal spending could harm the underground science lab at the former Homestake gold mine in Lead.
By: Denise Ross, The Daily Republic
Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., is worried that the push to cut federal spending could harm the underground science lab at the former Homestake gold mine in Lead.
“My concern is that rhetoric about the need to slash the budget could doom this project and all of its potential for South Dakota and the world,” Johnson told reporters Wednesday. “This is a perfect example of how you can’t cut your way to prosperity.”
There isn’t a specific threat to the lab — officially called the Sanford Underground Research Facility — and operations are continuing normally. But there is a funding shift under way at the federal level, with the project moving from the National Science Foundation to the Department of Energy.
In addition, the so-called Super Congress, a 12-member bipartisan committee, began work this week to substantially cut federal spending going forward. Plus, Congress is currently operating under a ban on earmarks, the past practice of allowing members of Congress to set aside money for specific projects.
This week, South Dakota’s congressional delegation sent a letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew seeking help in keeping federal funding for the lab on track.
“The project faces a number of near-term obstacles,” reads the letter. “In the current budget climate, where tough funding decisions must be made at all levels, we ask that you coordinate with Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation on providing the needed funding and flexibility to create outyear funding profiles.”
The lab’s complete lack of federal funding in the fiscal year 2011 budget further complicates the issue. Because Congress has been unable to pass budgets for the new fiscal year, it has relied on “continuing resolutions” that extend funding in the short term based on the prior year’s budget.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said the push to cut budgets does make things harder when it comes to funding the Homestake lab, but he said things are on track.
“The tough fiscal situation we are in makes these decisions a lot harder. Every program is being scrutinized a lot more closely than ever before,” Thune said.
“We have a very compelling argument.”
Thune said the Republican-controlled House has approved $12 million in funding for the project for fiscal year 2012. That comes in addition to the Senate Appropriations Committee including $15 million in a FY2012 spending bill, Johnson said.
The full Senate has not yet voted on the funding.
Thune also cited three glowing reports about the Homestake lab from independent reviewers examining its scientific merit, project design and cost.
“Those three reports were very compelling and make the argument for why this type of research ought to be done,” Thune said.
For the past four years, the lab has been operating as a state-run facility, with money coming from the state and federal governments as well as philanthropist T. Denny Sanford. Plans are to convert the facility into a federally run facility.
State officials are tracking the federal budgetary process but are not worried, said Tony Venhuizen, communications director for Gov. Dennis Daugaard.
“Gov. Daugaard has appreciated the strong support of Sen. Thune, Sen. Johnson and Congresswoman Noem as we continue to work toward a permanent funding solution for the Homestake lab,” Venhuizen said. “We have received positive signals from the key committees and believe things are on track. Obviously, the current budget situation in Washington puts everything that relies on federal funds in a difficult position, but we feel good about our relative position at this point.”