Washington State leaders said Wednesday that a spending bill that Congress likely will approve will allow planning to continue for a biosecurity research laboratory at Kansas State University.
But the appropriations plan hammered out by House and Senate negotiators also holds back some funding until a review can be done about the safety of the proposed National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, or NBAF.
Homeland Security Department officials wanted $36 million to work on the 520,000-square-foot NBAF. But there has been opposition to the lab and the foot-and-mouth disease research to be done there, based in part on concerns that an accidental release of the disease would devastate the livestock industry.
The House wanted to withhold all money until a third party studied the lab’s safety, while the Senate wanted to give Homeland Security the money and have it do the study. In a compromise, Wednesday’s move awards the money but requires the additional study before construction money is released.
Some funds are already in the pipeline, allowing planning and design work to continue, said Tom Thornton, president and chief executive officer of the Kansas Bioscience Authority.
Thornton said the Department of Homeland Security plans to break ground on the project next summer. He said he didn’t believe further study would delay that.
Kansas elected leaders struck a similar chord, saying movement of the conference committee bill signaled recognition of the need for the lab.
“It is a clear indication the Congress understands the importance of building a new lab to protect the nation’s food supply and supports moving ahead with construction of the lab in Kansas. This is an important step forward,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.
Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat, said, “Having already been assured by the president and DHS Secretary (Janet) Napolitano that this mission remains a top priority for the administration, this funding is another critical piece in moving the NBAF project forward in Kansas.”
The Homeland Security Department chose Kansas State University in Manhattan for the lab after a competition among several states. The department and Kansas officials have repeatedly said the lab can be safely operated in the state.
Costs for the lab and for transferring research there are estimated at $915 million, with Kansas providing at least $110 million and land for the lab. Michigan Democratic Reps. Bart Stupak and John Dingell, former Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, raised concerns last year about the prospect of moving foot-and-mouth research to the U.S. mainland.
Foot-and-mouth disease, which affects cattle and swine, was eradicated from the U.S. in 1929. The Kansas lab is intended to replace the aging lab at Plum Island, N.Y., where research has been confined.
Other deadly diseases will be studied at the lab, including diseases that can be passed from animals to humans.
In a July report, the Government Accountability Office criticized an earlier Homeland Security Department study of the risks of relocating the research. The GAO said the department improperly studied the dispersion risk if an accidental release occurred. It also said DHS did not include market response to a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in its economic analysis.
DHS has said building the lab on the U.S. mainland will allow for rapid response to animal disease outbreaks.
The compromise spending bill must be approved by the House and Senate before going to the president. Final approval is almost certain.