WASHINGTON — Six months ago, then Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama told a crowd in Pendleton he wasn't familiar with the Hanford nuclear reservation and didn't have a clue what was going on there.
The comment caused a stir in Washington State and set off alarm bells with the state's two Democratic senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.
It remains unclear whether the former community organizer from the south side of Chicago who spent three years in the Senate and is now the president-elect has learned anything about the $2 billion-a-year Hanford cleanup or the long-standing commitment from the federal government to clean up one of the most toxic sites on Earth.
Murray said she has had "several" conversations with Obama's transition team about Hanford.
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"I look forward to working with the Obama administration to make up for the funding shortfalls of the past eight years, and I am confident they will be responsive to our needs," Murray said.
Cantwell also has been in touch with the transition team and also is optimistic the new administration will be easier to work with when it comes to Hanford cleanup money.
"The President-elect's team understands that the current administration is leaving office with far too much cleanup work undone, and we are looking forward to working with the new administration to prioritize Hanford cleanup," Cantwell said.
Tommy Vietor, an Obama transition spokesman, declined this week to comment on the issue.
When it comes to the Department of Energy, Obama's focus has been on global warming and clean energy, even though the cleanup program at Hanford and other DOE sites eats up roughly one-fourth of the department's $25 billion annual budget.
Among those mentioned to head the department are Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming; former Indiana Democratic Sen. Phil Sharp, president of Resources for the Future, a think tank; Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter.
Others possibly in the mix include Dan Reicher, a former assistant energy secretary in the Clinton administration who now is director of climate change and energy initiatives at Google.org and Jeff Immelt, chief executive of General Electric Co.
There has been no speculation about who eventually may be named to head up DOE's cleanup arm.
The first real indication of how high a priority the incoming administration places on cleaning up Hanford and other DOE site may not come until it releases it first budget proposal in late January or early February.