by Marylia Kelley
from Tri-Valley CAREs' March 1998 newsletter
At a hearing Feb. 20, federal district court Judge Stanley Sporkin ordered the Dept. of Energy (DOE) to stand trial on contempt charges stemming from the agency's failure to draft a comprehensive cleanup plan for its nuclear weapons facilities, including Livermore and Sandia labs. (See also Feb. 1998 Citizen's Watch.)
This latest action is part of a lawsuit by 39 plaintiff organizations, including Tri-Valley CAREs, challenging DOE's "Stockpile Stewardship" plans as well as the Department's unilateral decision to drop environmental review of its cleanup plans from a 1990 court stipulation mandating both analyses.
Judge Sporkin ordered an October 15 trial, and awarded plaintiffs six month's of pre-trial discovery. During the hearing he explained it this way to our attorney Barbara Finamore of the Natural Resources Defense Council: I want you to find out where the agency got off-track, just how contemptuous they have been, and why they didn't get back to the court on this.
First, DOE tried to argue that it was legally obligated only to publish a "notice of intent' to conduct the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement-not actually do the review. Judge Sporkin was neither impressed nor amused by this novel legal interpretation.
Then, DOE argued that there were no national or programmatic issues involved in cleaning up the mess that is the country's nuclear weapons complex-all issues, DOE said, are local and site-specific. The Judge likened that argument to constructing an apartment building without an architect, by just handing out tools to prospective residents and asking each to construct his or her own unit.
We plaintiff organizations are seeking civil and criminal contempt penalties against DOE, including over $5 million in fines to be put into a fund to allow community-based groups and tribes across the country to monitor the cleanup process at DOE facilities. In lieu of jailing DOE Secretary Federico Pena until a schedule for preparing the new review is published, we have requested an extra $5,000 daily fine to add to the monitoring fund.
Altogether, these events, we believe, will go a long way toward making cleanup a higher priority throughout the complex, and in better involving the directly-affected public in decisions. Stay tuned.