The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun


Tuesday, April 04, 2000

Patton must take off the gloves

It's time for Gov. Paul Patton to demand that the Clinton administration stop stalling and get on with the promised cleanup of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

The governor should use all of the power at his disposal, including enforcing an agreement requiring the federal government to handle contaminated materials at the site as hazardous waste. Last year Patton threatened to take the Department of Energy to court if the agency didn't make significant progress on the cleanup. Now that it's clear the agency can't be trusted to deliver on its promises, he should follow through on that threat.

Also, if necessary, the governor should hold a news conference in front of the infamous "drum mountain" or the 38,000 cylinders of depleted uranium stacked on the plant grounds and ask President Clinton and Vice President Gore to explain why the administration has allowed this environmental nightmare to drag on in Paducah.

We're pretty sure that, in an election year, the president and the vice president would pay attention if the Democratic governor of a swing state accused the administration of dragging its feet on cleaning up a nuclear waste dump a dump that was created by the federal government.

Al "Earth in the Balance" Gore might even be persuaded to pay a visit to Paducah to see firsthand why people here literally are sick of being dumped on by the government. The Paducah plant site contains 65,000 tons of contaminated scrap and 14 billion pounds of hazardous waste stored in rusting metal containers.

If a private industry had committed an offense of this magnitude against the environment and then offered a grossly inadequate plan to clean up the mess the vice president would be leading federal bureaucrats and lawyers in an all-out charge against the polluters.

Last year Gov. Patton drily noted he was sure "the Clinton administration is sensitive to the environment because of its strict enforcement of air quality standards, surface coal mine regulations and in pushing strong tobacco legislation. ... They are very strong and adamant in requiring private industry and business to absorb the cost of these environmental measures."

The words "strong" and "adamant" do not come to mind in describing the DOE's commitment to dealing with the government's own unregulated waste dump in Paducah. A preliminary report from the General Accounting Office, the nonpartisan auditing arm of Congress, shows that DOE has underestimated the cost of the cleanup by excluding huge areas of contamination.

Also, the agency doesn't plan to meet Kentucky's standards for cleaning up toxic PCBs, the Courier-Journal of Louisville reported.

During a congressional hearing Friday, U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning demanded answers from DOE officials. "Don't tell me that we don't have enough money," Bunning said. "We do have enough money. It's a question of the administration's requesting what is needed."

Lacking strength and adamancy, the agency complains about the cost of technology designed to convert contaminated soil on the plant grounds into glass. The Courier-Journal reported recently that DOE officials are considering abandoning the Vortec technology because it is, in their estimation, too costly.

It would be cheaper, the DOE report says, to use alternative disposal methods, including an on-site landfill.

If DOE has the audacity to propose burying more contaminated waste in Paducah this, after the federal government spent decades shipping dangerous materials here for disposal the governor should immediately take off the gloves and go after the Clinton administration and its double-talking hired hands.

For months we've heard from DOE officials about how sorry they are about the way Paducah was treated in the past and how they intend to make amends for the government's betrayal of plant workers and the community.

These promises have amounted to little more than political spin. The agency is standing in the way of the construction of plants to convert the depleted uranium to safer materials; it's seeking to junk the promising Vortec technology in favor of burying more nuclear waste; and it simply refuses to fund the plant cleanup at adequate levels.

Kentucky's congressional delegation is trying to hold DOE officials' feet to the fire, but Gov. Patton is in the best position to pressure the Clinton administration into moving on the cleanup.

Word that the governor is planning legal action against the feds and a press conference in front of drum mountain to announce it just might be enough to concentrate the minds of the Clinton administration on the environmental disaster in Paducah.