The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Wednesday, February 06, 2002

DOE cut to reduce monitoring of plant cleanup

By Bill Bartleman

FRANKFORT, Ky.--Kentucky's top environmental official said there will be significant reductions in the monitoring of cleanup activities and environmental regulations at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant because of a funding cut by the U.S. Department of Energy.

James Bickford, secretary of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Cabinet, said the state needs $2.6 million for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, but DOE plans to furnish only $1.65 million.

Bickford has written to U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham urging restoration of full funding. The money pays for personnel costs, testing and hiring others to evaluate cleanup and environmental management.

Officials at DOE's headquarters in Washington did not respond to the Sun's request for a comment.

Bickford said it is troubling that at a time when Congress has allocated more funds for cleanup, DOE proposes to cut funding for the oversight that protects the public. "There is no logical explanation for this decision," Bickford said. "It runs counter to common sense and calls into question DOE's commitment to the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant cleanup."

The 2001-02 budget allocates $93.4 million for cleanup, almost $20 million more than the previous year. The state monitors the cleanup work to ensure that it is done safely and meets terms of an agreement calling for cleanup work to be completed by 2010.

Robert Daniell, deputy secretary of the Kentucky Natural Resources Cabinet, said increased security outlays may be one reason for the cut. DOE originally proposed spending $2.4 million on security in Paducah this year, but increased that to $4.8 million after the Sept. 11 attacks.

DOE has not discussed how the funds are being used.

"I know there are some other national priorities right now, but for the benefit of Paducah, the state and the nation, we need to get that site cleaned up," Bickford said. "I am very concerned. Paducah will have a difficult time getting new business and new industry and people won't want to move into that area as long as a situation like that exists."

Bickford said if funds are not restored, the most significant impact from the cut would be:

Elimination of radiological air monitoring.

Elimination of the monitoring of creeks surrounding the plant. "These creeks are the primary paths for contaminants released outside the DOE security fences," he said.

Cancellation of contracts with the University of Kentucky to evaluate seismic movement and install a permanent seismic monitoring station. He said that would have a negative impact on the state's ability to evaluate waste disposal sites.

Delays in several cleanup projects because it would take longer to evaluate DOE's proposed remediation plans.

Inadequate state staff to conduct independent environmental sampling when concerns are raised by residents near the plant. "The ... staff currently samples various drinking water wells and soils on a routine basis to assure (safety) of the public," he said.

In the letter to Abraham, Bickford said: "Independent oversight of public health and environmental activities at the (plant) is essential to the continuing progress of cleanup contamination at the plant."

He said the funding reduction "seriously undermines the commonwealth's ability to conduct critical oversight of DOE's increased activities."

For those reasons, Bickford wrote, "I must insist that you intervene in this matter and restore the fulling funding necessary for the commonwealth to continue in its role of meaningful oversight."