The governor will be in Paducah on Friday and is expected to bring good news about the state's talks with DOE and EPA on the plant cleanup.
By Bill Bartleman firstname.lastname@example.org
The governor's visit comes as the initial deadline passes today for the state to sign a letter of intent that would result in an extra $34 million once the federal fiscal year begins Oct. 1. The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved $134 million, and the House has approved $100 million.
The deadline now appears to be early September when House and Senate negotiators meet to resolve differences over the funding. If an agreement isn't reached with the state, the extra $34 million will be removed from the budget, according to Sen. Jim Bunning.
Mark York, spokesman for the Kentucky Natural Resources Cabinet, said the state, DOE and federal Environmental Protection Agency have been negotiating this week.
However, he would not comment on progress that has been made since top officials of all three agencies met last week in Frankfort. He said Patton would give a progress report when he meets Friday with community leaders in Paducah.
The governor is expected to announce agreements reached last week related to the removal of hundreds of tons of scrap metal and to some groundwater remediation. Permits for that work reportedly would be issued when DOE provided revised data on that work.
Critt Luallen, secretary of the governorís cabinet, acknowledged that progress was being made on an agreement but said she would leave the details for the governor to announce Friday.
"We are encouraged with the continuing discussions that the secretary of natural resources is having with DOE and EPA," she said. "The governor will comment (on Friday) that negations are moving forward and they are making progress."
Luallen said that DOE officials have told the state that today's deadline is not crucial as long as the state continues to negotiate in good faith toward reaching an agreement in principle.
DOE officials did not return calls Wednesday seeking comment on the latest developments. Last week, DOE spokesman Joe Davis said "DOE, EPA and Kentucky are all working hard together to make progress, and we continue to meet."
In the past, environmental activists have expressed concern that if the accelerated plan is approved, it would reduce DOE's long-term commitment to properly clean the compound of chemical and radioactive contamination.
Luallen said that although DOE would spend more money in the short term, it would spend less in the long term, leaving some to argue that DOE would end up doing less than it committed to five years ago when it signed the original agreement with the state.
DOE, however, says the key to the accelerated cleanup work is reducing some of the state oversight, which is costly because it increases paperwork. Also, it says spending more money now will save money later.
U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning said he doesn't understand why Kentucky hasn't agreed to DOE's new plan. He expressed concern that missing today's deadline would cause Paducah to lose the extra money.
"It would help get a majority of the cleanup work done before the expected completion date of 2024," said Bunning, adding that under the accelerated plan the major work would be done by 2006.
"I'm not advocating cutting corners and health and safety to get a quick deal," Bunning said. "No one agrees more than I that we need to watch DOE like a hawk, but Frankfort is letting us down.
"It boggles my mind that the Patton administration couldn't get a deal signed with DOE ... when DOE was able to get agreement with officials at 17 other sites.
"If I had a method by which I could accelerate cleanup in Paducah, I'd sign off on it."