The Paducah Sun

December 19, 1999

Letters try to cut red tape at plant

By Bill Bartleman
The Paducah Sun

Calling one top federal official "as lost as an Easter egg" and another "an example of the problem," Tom Osborne is asking President Clinton and Energy Secretary Bill Richardson to help cut through the bureaucracy and fund two special projects for the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

Osborne was part of a delegation led by Gov. Paul Patton that visited Washington last week to find out why an expanded worker medical testing program and construction of a uranium hexafluoride recycling plant have not been funded.

"The meetings we had were highly positive in terms of support from the president, the vice president's staff and John Podesta (the president's chief of staff)," Osborne said. "They were ready to take action. But there seemed to be problems with some assistant administrators who are supposed to see that these programs are carried out."

Osborne is so irritated by the attitudes of two officials that he is sending strongly worded letters to Clinton and Richardson asking them to "encourage" their appointees to be cooperative.

His targets are Elgie Holstein Jr., associate director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Carolyn Huntoon, assistant secretary of environmental management for the U.S. Department of Energy.

In the letter that will be sent to Clinton this week, Osborne restated some of the environmental problems and reminded Clinton of past conversations they have had about the Paducah plant.

Osborne said he talked to Clinton about the plant during campaign appearances in Paducah in 1992 and 1996, and at a meeting in Lexington about two years ago.

"Even though you understand this problem clearly and are committed to making government work for the people, your staff is not," Osborne said in the letter.

"Unfortunately, Associate Director of OMB Elgie Holstein Jr. was totally unfamiliar with our problems ... (in a meeting last month) with Gov. Patton." In a meeting on Thursday, Osborne said, Holstein "was again lost as an Easter egg ... (he) did not know the status of the $7 million in medical monitoring funds for these plant workers."

Osborne also told Clinton that Holstein did not know the status of $60 million in funds that are needed to begin construction of a plant to recycle 37,000 cylinders of depleted uranium hexafluoride.

"Moreover, he would not even find out the status and report back to Gov. Patton and myself," Osborne said. "Perhaps your staff could encourage Elgie Holstein Jr. to review OMB's budget and show Kentucky where these funds are located."

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield said the budget that was approved by Congress last month included language that instructs the administration to spend $7 million for medical testing of current and former workers. Also, the initial funding for the recycling plant has been approved by Congress.

In the letter to Richardson, Osborne praises him for his commitment to help workers and speed the cleanup of contamination. During a visit to Paducah in September, Richardson apologized for problems at the plant, promised current and former workers they would be tested for health problems, and promised more funds for cleanup.

However, none of those promises has been kept, and Osborne said the "bureaucrats" in DOE and other agencies are to blame.

"Frankly, Mr. Secretary, Deputy Secretary Carolyn Huntoon does not share your deep concern for the people of this region," Osborne said in a draft of the letter to Richardson. "Nor does she share your zeal to make government work for the people, instead of against the people. Unfortunately, Deputy Secretary Huntoon is an example of the problem, not the solution."

Osborne asks Richardson to use his influence to clear up confusion over whether the medical testing funding and recycling plant funding are in the budget.

Osborne said he anticipates that the meetings last week and the letters will result in some action. "I am assuming we will get the answers to some of our questions about the budget by the end of the week," Osborne said.

Also during the meetings last week, the delegation led by Patton asked for an emergency appropriation early next year of $100 million that will allow for more cleanup work at the plant.

And, the visitors asked for an additional $100 million annually to keep the cleanup on a pace that would allow for all of the work to be completed by 2010.

In addition to 37,000 cylinders of depleted uranium, there are thousands of tons of contaminated materials in a scrap yard, contaminated groundwater and contaminated soil.

Officials estimate the cleanup will cost at least $1 billion and possible as much as $2 billion.