The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Friday, June 21, 2002

Groups fight cleanup 'slush fund'
The citizens'groups say the DOE procedure is an effort to avoid cleanup agreements, and will leave out the Paducah plant.

By Joe Walker jwalker@paducahsun.com--270.575.8650

Watchdog groups want Congress to pull the plug on an $800 million "slush fund" of accelerated cleanup money, a slice of which the Paducah uranium enrichment plant is seeking.

The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, composed of 33 citizens' groups around nuclear sites nationwide, sent setters Thursday asking Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville, and other members of the Senate Appropriations Committee to eliminate the fund and provide "adequate, stable funding" for all nuclear sites.

The letters charge that the Energy Department's "cleanup reform" account is mainly money taken from what Congress funded this year for more than a dozen nuclear sites.

"As a matter of fact, the better part of the $800 million is already promised, and Paducah is nowhere close to an agreement," said Mark Donham, president of the Regional Association of Concerned Environmentalists and chairman of the citizens' advisory board to the plant. "This amounts to nothing more than a sophisticated form of blackmail to allow DOE to get out of previous cleanup agreements."

Joe Davis, a spokesman for DOE headquarters in Washington, D.C., said the group is wrong.

"Aside from the fact that the allegations are false and from uninformed sources, it's surprising that self-proclaimed watchdogs for the environment would vehemently oppose accelerating cleanup at DOE facilities, including Kentucky," he said.

"Fortunately, we are working with Kentucky state regulators and members of the congressional delegation who understand that ensuring a smart, accelerated cleanup plan should be in place before we throw more good money after bad. Our work has accomplished progress with Kentucky, and we look forward to finishing the deal."

Energy Department officials want state and federal regulatory approval of a plan for faster cleanup allowing the Paducah plant to apply for the money by Aug. 1, the deadline for submission to the Office of Management and Budget.

All but about $43 million of the money has been pledged in letters of intent to various sites across the country, said Bob Schaeffer, public education director for the alliance. He said $433 million went to a closed nuclear fuel facility in Hanford, Wash.; $104 million to the Oak Ridge, Tenn., nuclear complex; and the rest to six other sites.

"DOE's allocating it isn't the same as spending it, because the agency doesn't make that determination; Congress does," Schaeffer said. "Both houses have expressed serious concerns about whether this is a good way to spend the money."

At a public meeting here Tuesday night, regulators said they agree that faster cleanup is needed but disagree with DOE on details and aren't ready to back away from a 1998 agreement.

Paducah Mayor Bill Paxton, local DOE task force Chairman Ken Wheeler and other local leaders say state delays could cost Paducah's chances for the money.

Mark York, spokesman for the Kentucky Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Cabinet, countered that the cabinet and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency responded last month to a DOE draft plan. Since then, there have been phone conversations and e-mail exchanges trying to resolve differences, he said.

This week, Natural Resources Secretary James Bickford promised Jessie Roberson, DOE's assistant secretary for environmental management, that the state wants to complete the process, York said. He said Bickford is waiting to hear from Bill Murphie, new cleanup manager for the Paducah plant, on the date of a meeting next week.

"Our job is to be protective of human health and the environment, and we're going to take a close look at everything that is presented," York said. "The first thing we received was a general conception, and now we’re down to the details, so we're not delaying anything."

The alliance letter accused DOE of using the $800 million to pressure state officials "to change existing agreements and plans in order to regain lost funding for the sites and regulatory costs. Such a scofflaw practice would result in less cleanup, thereby endangering public health and violating commitments made to affected communities to address the effects of nuclear weapons production."

The alliance wants the committee "to support real reform" by requiring the Energy Department to submit a separate, itemized cleanup budget for its sites. That would allow Congress and the public to prioritize cleanup and hold DOE accountable, the letter said.

A letter sent Wednesday by alliance board President Jay Coghlan urges similar support from DOE Undersecretary Robert Card. Coghlan reminded Card that only about one-third of DOE's $6.3 billion environmental management budget actually goes to cleanup and other risk-reduction work.