H.R. 5987: The Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act

H.R. 5987

The Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act

Date
September 19, 2012 (112th Congress, 2nd Session)

Staff Contact
Communications

Floor Situation

On Wednesday, September 18, 2012, the House is scheduled to consider H.R. 5987, the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act, under a suspension of the rules requiring a two-thirds majority for approval. The bill was introduced on June 21, 2012, by Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) and referred to the Committee on Natural Resources, which held a mark up and reported the bill by voice vote on July 11, 2012.

Bill Summary

H.R. 5987 would establish the Manhattan Project National Historical Park under the authority of the Secretaries of Interior and Energy.  Within one year after enactment, the Park will be established as a unit of the National Park System and could include areas to be determined by the Secretary of Interior in consultation with the Secretary of Energy.  The legislation would stipulate that the Park may only consist of areas located in Oak Ridge, TN, Los Alamos, NM and Hanford, WA and also specifies that the Park must include the B Reactor National Historic Landmark in Hanford. 

Within one year of enactment, the Secretaries of Interior and Energy must enter into an agreement specifying their respective roles in administering the areas to be included in the Park which are currently under the jurisdiction of the Energy Department. H.R. 5987 specifies than in any agreement the Secretary of the Interior shall have decision making authority on historic interpretation and that the National Park Service must have an appropriate advisory role.  Also, the Secretary of Energy must ensure that the agreement protects public safety and national security, and remain responsible for any environmental remediation related to the Park.  Within thirty days of an established agreement, the Secretary of the Interior must publish a notice including an official boundary map of the Park.

Within three years after the enactment of H.R. 5987, the two Secretaries must complete a general management plan for the Park consistent with U.S. law regarding Second Amendment rights on federal land.

H.R. 5987 also specifies how the Secretary of the Interior may acquire land for the Park.  The Secretary may accept donations or exchanges from the Department of Energy and enter into agreements with other Federal agencies, State and local governments, etc. for public access to historically significant Manhattan Project resources.  The Secretary may not acquire land by condemnation, however.  Lastly, the legislation specifically does not create any cause of action with respect to activities outside of the Park.

Background

The Manhattan Project was a top secret program during World War II with the express purpose of designing producing the first atomic weapon.  Purposefully decentralized to maintain secrecy, the three sites designated by the act were instrumental to the project.  Oak Ridge, TN, was the site of much of the material development needed by the project, including the enrichment of uranium. The B Reactor located in Hanford, WA, was the first large scale nuclear reactor ever built.  Los Alamos, NM, is the site of the Los Alamos National Laboratory which served to coordinate the scientific research of the Manhattan Project.  The work of these three sites culminated in the first use of atomic weapons.

In an effort to preserve and protect the historic sites related to the Manhattan Project, the 108th Congress directed the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a study to determine whether one or more of these sites might be designated as a unit of the National Park Service.  According to Ingrid Kolb, Director of Management at the Department of Energy, in testimony given before Congress, after studying the issue “the Department and the National Park Service agreed that a park was feasible, met the suitability requirement for creating a new park, and should be established.”

The NPS is facing a maintenance deficit and a deteriorating national park infrastructure. According to CRS, while the NPS has improved inventory and asset management systems, the estimate of its deferred maintenance backlog has continued to mount. The Department of Interior (DOI) estimated deferred maintenance for the NPS for FY2010 at between $8.77 billion and $12.89 billion, with a mid-range figure of $10.83 billion. The backlog is a result of the NPS’s failing to do scheduled maintenance and upkeep that was either not funded or carried out according to plan.

Cost

According to CBO, “the final costs of implementing H.R. 5987 would depend on which lands are chosen for inclusion in the new park unit. Based on information from the NPS, CBO estimates that including all eligible sites would cost $21 million over the 2013-2017 period, assuming appropriation of the necessary amounts. Cost would be lower if fewer sites were included.”