November 10, 1999
DOE, regulators finding ways to streamline cleanup
By Bill Bartleman
Cutting the bureaucracy necessary to approve cleanup plans at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant was among the topics during two days of meetings involving top officials of the U.S. Department of Energy and state and federal environmental regulators.
They met Monday and Tuesday to search for ways to streamline the cleanup process, reduce administrative costs and evaluate cleanup priorities included in an agreement between DOE and the Kentucky Cabinet for Natural Resources.
The meeting was scheduled in the wake of criticism from members of Kentucky's congressional delegation that too much money is being spent on environmental management and regulations and not enough on actual cleanup.
DOE has spent $388 million at the plant since 1988, and one-third of the expenditure has gone to actually removing waste.
"One of the things we talked about was how we go about improving the traditional review of documents outlining our plans for cleanup," said James Fiore, acting deputy assistant secretary of DOE's Office of Environmental Restoration. "Normally, we prepare a document, and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) reviews it and makes comments. Then we respond to the comments. It sometimes is a long process."
In the future, he said, the EPA review will be done while the plan is being prepared by DOE. "We will deal with the controversial issues up front," Fiore said. "It should reduce costs and streamline the process by reducing the amount of time we spend reviewing documents and responding to documents."
He said one of the first tests will come during the next couple of months as a plan is prepared for cleaning up the so-called "drum mountain," a heap containing thousands of crushed drums that are contaminated with uranium dust.
"All the agencies are committed to working vigorously to have drum mountain cleaned up by the end of next year," Fiore said. "With everyone working together, it is very realistic to have that done within a year."
Fiore said most of the discussion was about ways all the agencies can cooperate without compromising safety and regulatory oversight.
"We didn't talk about specifics but set the stage for continued work at the staff level to come up with priorities and ways to stand back and look at what we are doing," Fiore said.
He said there was agreement that the top cleanup priorities are areas such as drum mountain and metal scrap yards that may be contributing to groundwater contamination.
Also, Fiore said officials will review whether future priorities should remain in cleaning up landfills or should shift to cleaning up abandoned contaminated buildings.
Another meeting will be held in about a month to review the progress of the cooperative effort and re-evaluation of priorities.
State officials who attended the meeting were traveling back to Frankfort on Tuesday afternoon and were not available for comment.