New nukes — as well as old nuclear waste — may soon be headed West: Tucked inside the 2004 Water and Energy Appropriations Bill was $11 million for the Modern Pit Facility, a factory to build plutonium triggers for nuclear bombs (HCN, 9/1/03: Courting the Bomb). Now, it’s up to the Energy Department to decide where to build that facility: Los Alamos or Carlsbad, N.M.; the Nevada Test Site; Texas or South Carolina.



Congress also allotted $580 million for Yucca Mountain, the federal government’s choice for storage of the nation’s high-level radioactive waste (HCN, 8/5/02: Yucca heads for the courts). Of that, $55 million will go toward transportation studies. "This Congress will rue the day it got in bed with the nuclear industry," Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., told her colleagues.



That same water and energy spending bill also contains a provision to keep water out of the Middle Rio Grande: A rider added to the bill by Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., prevents the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation from using San Juan-Chama water to keep the Rio Grande flowing for the endangered silvery minnow. Though the minnows won’t get any water, biologists will get about $7 million to study them (HCN, 8/4/03: Truce remains elusive in Rio Grande water fight).



Congress also passed the Defense spending bill, which gives the military $401 billion and grants the Pentagon exemptions from the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (HCN, 3/31/03: While the nation goes to war, the Pentagon lobs bombs at the environment). Now, the military can designate its own version of critical habitat for endangered species, without oversight from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Navy can redefine "harassment" of marine mammals.



And sadly, one of the West’s mangy mascots has gone to the great boneyard in the sky: The Auditor, the dreadlocked canine who lived for 17 years at Butte, Montana’s Berkeley Pit — one of the nation’s biggest Superfund sites — died peacefully in his doghouse last month (HCN, 12/9/02: Like Butte, a lonely dog hangs on).