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Archive for Thursday, October 8, 2009

Kansas congressional delegation confident that NBAF will be built

Brownback, Jenkins clarify funding reports

Kansas lawmakers are calling an agreement to spend more than $30 million on a bio-defense lab in Manhattan a major event. The agreement could help ensure the lab is built.

October 8, 2009

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— The federal biosecurity lab that is proposed to be built in Kansas passed a major milestone, officials said Thursday, but there are hurdles ahead.

“This project is moving forward; it is on time and on schedule,” said U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan.

He and U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., convened a telephone news conference from Washington, D.C., to try to straighten out reports about what a conference committee did with funding for the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility, proposed to be constructed on the campus of Kansas State University.

The conference committee bill includes $32 million for NBAF, $27 million of which can be spent on planning and site preparation once the legislation is enacted, said Brownback, who is a member of the committee.

About $5 million slated for construction of a central utility plant cannot be spent until four more studies are done on the safety of the proposed lab, he said.

But those studies will probably be completed before construction is to begin next summer on the facility, Brownback said.

“Bottom line: The bill keeps NBAF on schedule,” he said.

Jenkins agreed.

“I believe this solidifies congressional intent to bring NBAF to Manhattan,” she said.

Reports Wednesday were unclear on how much of the project would be funded this fiscal year.

Despite the confusion, the conference committee requirements for further review of the safety of NBAF and the Department of Homeland Security’s analysis of the facility show that concerns continue to dog the project.

Michigan Democratic Reps. Bart Stupak and John Dingell, former Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, raised alarms last year about the planned move of foot-and-mouth research to the U.S. mainland.

Foot-and-mouth disease, which affects cattle and swine, was eradicated from the United States 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.

Under the bill as it now stands, Homeland Security must conduct another risk assessment that will then be reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences. Homeland Security is charged with doing several other reports.

Brownback said he is confident the appropriate safety analysis has already been done, but if the new studies point to a problem, the design of the facility can be changed.

The conference committee report will now be decided by the full House and Senate, and, if approved, go to President Barack Obama for his signature. Brownback and Jenkins said they expect the conference bill to be approved.

Brownback said there is a $1.5 million appropriation in an agriculture bill to start transferring some of the research from Plum Island to Kansas State University’s already existing bioscience lab.

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