President Obama’s federal budget recommends that no new funding be allocated for the construction of a new biosecurity lab in Manhattan, Kan. The budget proposal raised new doubts about the future of the National Bio-and Agro-Defense Facility under construction near Kansas State University.
Congress appropriated $50 million of the $150 million the Obama administration requested for NBAF in the current budget year, which the White House says is insufficient to begin construction. The project would cost an estimated $650 million and would replace an aging facility at Plum Island, N.Y.
“In light of this, the administration will conduct a comprehensive assessment of the project in 2012, which will consider the cost, safety and any alternatives to the current plan that would reduce costs and ensure safety,” the budget document states.
Obama is asking the Department of Homeland Security to reevaluate the project, while spending $10 million to increase the amount of research being done at Kansas State’s Biosecurity Research Institute.
Last month Kansas Governor Sam Brownback told two dozen state legislators during a meeting at his residence that he expected the legislative battle over NBAF to last another five years.
Kansas issued $45 million in bonds in December to help finance construction of a new central utilities building for the lab and clear away an old grain mill.
The new lab, which could start operations by 2018, would research plant and animal pathogens. Kansas officials have actively promoted the building of the lab in Kansas and believe a strong biosciences industry could create more than 300 jobs that would pay an average of more than $75,000 per year in salary and benefits.
The construction of NBAF in Manhattan is not without critics, however. At a hearing last month, some Manhattan-area residents and university faculty expressed concerns about the possibility that deadly pathogens, such as foot-and-mouth disease, could be released accidentally from the lab and damage agriculture.
Project supporters say funding of NBAF is critical to protecting America’s food supply and is a matter of national defense.