December 18, 1999
Patton lobbies Clinton on cleanup
By Bill Bartleman
Gov. Paul Patton thinks he has made significant progress in convincing the Clinton administration that funding to clean up the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant should be increased by at least $100 million a year.
After meeting with top officials in the U.S. Department of Energy and the Office of Budget and Management on Thursday, Patton discussed the situation with President Clinton on Friday during a 25-minute private meeting.
"He had already been briefed about our concerns ... and said, 'We needed to address the issue,'" Patton said after the White House meeting. "I think we now have the attention of the administration at the very highest levels. Now we just have to wait and see if they recommended the funding" to Congress.
Patton told Clinton and other administration officials that the state will force the federal government to meet its written commitment to remove all the radioactive and chemical contamination at the plant by 2010. The cleanup will cost at least $1 billion - perhaps as much as $2 billion - and Patton said current funding levels of about $40 million annually aren't sufficient to meet the deadline.
Patton asked for an emergency appropriation of $100 million early next year, at least $100 million in the 2001 budget and at least $40 million to help design and build a plant to recycle more than 37,000 cylinders of depleted uranium hexafluoride, the waste from the enrichment process.
Chemical and radioactive contamination at the plant where uranium is enriched into a nuclear fuel has been accumulating since production began in 1952. The contamination is in buildings, soil, groundwater, cylinders, drums and a scrap yard. Some current and former workers have sued, claiming they became ill because of the contamination.
Patton said Clinton appeared genuinely interested in the problems.
"I had a one-page summary explaining the problems and told him I would give it to a member of his staff," Patton said. "But he wanted it himself so that he could look it over. He said he had already talked with John Podesta (Clinton's chief of staff) about the issue."
Patton began his lobbying effort Thursday by meeting with top Department of Energy officials and the executive branch Office of Budget and Management. He was joined by Paducah leader Tom Osborne, a lawyer who is vice chairman of the Kentucky Democratic Executive Committee; Paducah Bank Chief Executive Officer Joe Framptom, who is also president of the Greater Paducah Economic Development Council, and McCracken County Judge-Executive Danny Orazine.
The governor also met privately with Podesta on Thursday.
The delegation visiting Washington also included Paducah businessman Bruce Pope and Paducah Sun Publisher Fred Paxton. They held separate meetings with members of Kentucky's congressional delegation.
Even if Clinton recommends more funding, Patton said, it will have to be approved by Congress.
It was the third time in three months that Patton has met with top Clinton aides to ask for additional funds for the Paducah plant, which since August has been in the national spotlight because of worker lawsuits and acknowledgements by Energy Secretary Bill Richardson that workers were unknowingly exposed to plutonium and neptunium.
Friday was the first time the governor had talked directly with Clinton. Patton also has discussed the issue with Vice President Al Gore.
While no commitments were made Thursday or Friday, Patton said he felt good about the meetings. "These were breakthrough meetings," he said. "We've been up here before and made our requests in very strong terms, but if you don't keep coming back, they won't understand the urgency.
"We finally have gotten their attention that this is a problem that we take seriously and that we will not be happy with a no answer," Patton said.
The governor said he also warned of political implications, meaning possible damage to the chances of Democrats in Kentucky elections next year, if there aren't more cleanup funds for Paducah.
"I told them in no uncertain terms that this issue is very important to the people of Kentucky, and that if they didn't take some action, this administration would be blamed for the continuation of the problems," Patton said. "I made it a point that when I introduced Tom Osborne to make sure they knew he was vice chairman of the state Democratic Party."
Patton said that in each meeting, he hammered on the theme that contamination cleanup is just as important in the public sector as the private sector.
"It was a very frank discussion," Patton said. "This
is a very environmentally conscious administration when it comes to enforcing
environmental rules on private individuals and companies in Kentucky. They
have done that with the tobacco industry and the coal industry. I told them
they should be equally aggressive when it is their contamination and their
responsibility for bearing the cost."