U.S. Sen. Alexander touts bill funding National Laboratories, supercomputing as it heads to president's desk

Associated Press File Photo / Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., will retire after his term ends in January 2021, but he doesn't plan to let any grass grow under his feet while still in office.

A bill passed Thursday by the U.S. Senate seeks to boost funding for a number of important Tennessee projects, including the Chickamauga Lock, a uranium processing facility at the National Laboratories, and the Oak Ridge Cleanup.

The measure, which would bump up funding for the Office of Science by 38 percent compared with the last five years, passed by a 71-23 vote and now heads to President Donald Trump's desk for approval.

"This is an important bill for our country and for Tennessee," reads a Thursday news release from U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

Lamar, who serves as the Senate's Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee chairman, called the funding bill "the best-kept secret in Washington. Thursday's passage of the measure marks five consecutive years of record funding for national laboratories and supercomputing passing through the Senate, the release states.

The bill includes:

- $7 billion for the U.S.'s 17 national laboratories, including the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The amount marks an increase of $415 million above last year, which is a new record for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science, according to the release.

- $1.82 billion for high performance computing (supercomputing), including at Oak Ridge, which is home to the current record holder for fastest supercomputer in the world.

- A new record funding level for the Army Corps of Engineers, including up to $94.5 million to continue construction of the Chickamauga Lock.

- $745 million to continue building the Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

- $682 million for cleanup at the East Tennessee Technology Park, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the Y-12 National Security Complex.

Reached for comment Thursday afternoon, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., said the funding for the Chickamauga Lock was a "major win for East Tennessee."

"I have long championed funding for the Chickamauga Lock and I fought hard to ensure up to $94.5 million was included in the FY20 spending bill. This robust funding means that the project will stay on track towards completion and the local economy that is supported by goods and services from the Lock will have long-term stability."

If Trump signs the legislation, the Chick Lock project would remain fully funded for the sixth year in a row, he said.

The estimated $757.7 million project seeks to replace the crumbling existing lock, which was built in 1940, with a new and bigger lock through the dam.

"This is great news for East Tennessee since the new lock will help keep up to 150,000 trucks off I-75 and keep the cost of shipping goods low for manufacturers across the state," Alexander said.

He added that the funding will not significantly add to the nationa's runaway federal debt, as they are funded in a portion of the budget that only increases "at about the rate of inflation," the release states.