LEAD — The Department of Energy will reimburse the National Science Foundation for the costs incurred by funding operations at the Sanford Lab in 2012.
Lisa Van Pay, a spokeswoman for the NSF said Tuesday, “NSF has agreed to provide support for continuous pumping at Sanford Lab until the DOE Fiscal Year 2012 budget is approved. NSF will recoup these costs from the DOE.”
Van Pay also reported that the National Science Board, which governs major NSF expenditures, is aware of the decision to provide operating funds. In December 2010 the National Science Board voted to pull the plug on future financial support for the Sanford Lab and DUSEL, even though the project started as the result of a National Science Foundation request for proposals. At that time, the National Science Board called for the Department of Energy to assume stewardship of the project.
While a spokesman with the Department of Energy acknowledged that the agency was coordinating with the NSF to provide operating funds during the 2012 Continuing Resolution, he did not specify whether that coordination included reimbursing funds.
The Department of Energy's 2012 Office of Science budget is approximately $5.4 billion, and includes funding that will pay for basic Sanford Lab operations for the year. However, the agency is prohibited from funding any new projects until the budget is approved. Since the NSF helped fund operations in 2011, that agency is permitted to provide funding while the DOE budget remains in limbo. Therefore, the National Science Foundation agreed to fund the lab, regardless of how long the continuing resolution lasts, until the Department of Energy can reimburse the agency with its approved funds and assume financial responsibility for the project.
Ron Wheeler, executive director of the Sanford Lab, has said it costs about $1 million a month to keep the pumps on and basic operations going at the facility.
Both the House and Senate Energy and Water bill, which is the DOE's 2012 appropriations bill, contains $15 million for Sanford Lab operations. The House version passed on July 15 with a vote of 219-196. The full Senate has yet to agree on the bill. The Senate's continuing resolution is scheduled to end Nov. 18, at which time Jeff Goeringer, of Sen. Tim Johnson's office, said it is too early to tell whether it will be passed. However, Sen. John Thune expressed optimism that the funding for Sanford Lab operations will be passed.
“With both chambers recommending the same funding, it increases the likelihood that SURF (Sanford Underground Research Facility) will receive the full $15 million recommended by the Appropriations Committees,” Thune said.