The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Wednesday, February 13, 2002

DOE ordered to answer pleas on Paducah plant

By Joe Walker

A federal judge in Benton, Ill., has ruled that a backlog of Freedom of Information requests is no excuse for the Department of Energy not to respond to two September 1999 requests by an area citizens group for information regarding the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

U.S. District Judge Phil Gilbert ruled Feb. 5 that DOE must respond by March 11 to one of two requests by Mark Donham and Kristi Hanson of Brookport, Ill., and their Regional Association of Concerned Environmentalists (RACE). The deadline is for documents relating to the once-proposed Vortec radioactive waste incinerator project at the plant.

A second request involves records of dismantled nuclear weapons shipments made during the Cold War between the Pantex facility in Amarillo, Texas, and Paducah for precious metals recovery and burial.

Gilbert ordered the Energy Department to submit a proposed compliance schedule, supported by affidavits and other evidence. RACE will have a chance to respond to the schedule.

On Aug. 8, 2000, the DOE Office of Hearings and Appeals dismissed Donham's appeal to the agency, saying it did not have the appropriate information to review.

RACE filed suit Feb. 16, 2001, in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. The Energy Department responded that it has a backlog of more than 600 Freedom of Information requests, handled on a first-come, first-served basis.

According to Gilbert's ruling, DOE said on April 25 that it would take four to six months to respond to the Vortec request, and as long as 18 months for the weapons information to reach final declassification review. DOE had no firm estimate of time to complete the weapons request.

DOE provided partial response to the Vortec request Nov. 15 and said the rest would be done by the middle of this month.

Gilbert denied the agency's request to postpone response indefinitely because of the backlog and to schedule a status conference within a year. He said the backlog was not an "exceptional circumstance" qualifying for the indefinite delay.