A lobbyist for the cleanup credits Sen. McConnell's strategy for approving the project opposed by President Bush.
By Joe Walker email@example.com
President Bush opposed, but signed, strongly worded legislation late Friday night requiring DOE to award a contract within 30 days to any of the firms whose bids were under review when the department stopped the process Jan. 15. The language was in a $29 billion anti-terrorism spending bill approved last month by the House-Senate Conference Committee.
Washington lobbyist Richard Miller, who helped Sen. Mitch McConnell's staff write the cleanup legislation, said Bush signed the bill even though the White House issued a policy statement opposing the cleanup component. The Office of Management and Budget had argued that only one plant was needed, and some DOE officials had said that the initial legislation passed in 1998 did not require construction of even one plant.
Miller helped with the original law while he was policy analyst for the atomic workers' union. He now works for the Government Accountability Project, a national watchdog group, but said he helped with the new legislation for free because he believed so strongly in it.
"The president had no choice but to sign it," Miller said. "He wasn't going to kill a $29 billion bill just for that."
Miller credited McConnell, R-Louisville, a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, for winning the battle against the administration's views of the conversion project. The senator had criticized the Energy Department and OMB for repeated delays during the past four years.
"Sen. McConnell should be the one holding the giant scissors at the ribbon cutting," Miller said. "His clout is what made the difference."
McConnell issued a statement praising Bush for signing the Supplemental Appropriations bill.
"This legislation is important to the people of Paducah, and I am pleased the president agreed," McConnell said. "The conversion facility will help accelerate cleanup and bring jobs to the area. It has been a long, hard fight, but now we can finally focus on the real issue — cleaning up this hazardous waste."
The cleanup language requires that construction start by July 31, 2004, six months after the date set in the original law. It also requires DOE to seek adequate annual funding to ensure completion of the project, estimated at $1 billion to build two plants and run them about 20 years. Each plant is expected to create hundreds of construction jobs and about 150 long-term jobs converting billions of pounds of hazardous, corrosive material.
The White House statement said the bill has scores of unneeded items totaling billions of dollars and all classified as an "emergency," including building the conversion plants for at least $100 million more than necessary. The OMB had said it could save $100 million by building just one facility.
Miller said the cost estimates he has seen show little difference between one and two plants because of the enormous cost of shipping the waste and meeting new Department of Transportation rules, which probably will mean putting the cylinders in plastic safety overpacks. There are about 38,000 canisters at Paducah and about 16,000 at Piketon.
Funding had been uncertain even though Congress set aside about $373 million for the work. Miller said the legislation ensures that the project will start with about $55 million, more than enough to get engineering work done. The new language mandates that a fund of $373 million in additional money, set aside in the 1998 law, be used only for the conversion work, he said.
After taking months to review bids for a two-plant project, the Energy Department abruptly stopped it in January. The three finalists were told Feb. 28 that DOE was changing the process to seek costs for three plants. The department said it hoped by January 2003 to decide the number and location of plants to be procured.
The finalists were American Conversion Services, formed by Paducah uranium enrichment plant operator USEC Inc. and the environmental firm CH2M Hill; Jacobs COGEMA, formed by Jacobs Engineering Group and COGEMA; and Uranium Disposition Services, formed by Framatome ANP (Advanced Nuclear Power) Richland, Duratek Federal Services and Burns and Roe Enterprises.