The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Saturday, August 31, 2002

Justice asks 'last' delay in decision to join suit
The Paducah whistle-blower suit on Lockheed Martin has been delayed by 11 such extensions so far.

By Bill Bartleman

The U.S. Department of Justice is asking for what appears to be the final extension for deciding whether it will join a whistle-blower suit that claims Lockheed Martin Co. filed false environmental reports when it managed the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

The motion filed late Friday in Louisville is the 12th such request by the U.S. attorney's office since the suit was filed in June 1999 by three plant employees and an environmental watchdog group, the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Under an extension approved in July by U.S. District Judge Joseph McKinley Jr., the government was to have made its decision by Sunday. The latest extension would expire Nov. 1.

The suit claims that false statements made by Lockheed involved illegal storage and disposal of radioactive waste, unlawful exposure of workers to lethal contaminants, and contamination of groundwater and soil with plutonium, neptunium and other radioactive materials. The suit seeks refunds of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Revelations made in the suit gained nationwide attention and prompted then-DOE Secretary Bill Richardson to visit Paducah and admit that some management practices at the plant resulted in workers’ being exposed to hazardous materials and widespread pollution.

Lockheed, which operated the Paducah site for the Department of Energy from 1982 to 1992, has strongly denied the allegations.

In Friday's motion asking for the extension, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Campbell said representatives of the government "are continuing to have internal discussions" about the allegations that have been investigated by the government. Earlier reports indicate that Campbell has recommended the government join the suit, but a final decision by his superiors in Washington has been delayed for more than a year because of opposition by DOE.

Campbell said more meetings are scheduled with those who filed the suit and with Lockheed. "The government at the present time believes that following the further round of discussions, the government will be in a position to make its final decision on whether to intervene in the matter or not." He added that the decision will be made on or before Nov. 1.

Joe Egan, the Washington, D.C., attorney who filed the suit, was not available for comment Friday. However, Campbell said those who filed the suit do not oppose the extension.

Campbell said in an earlier interview that talks with Lockheed were aimed at reaching an out-of-court settlement. Lockheed, however, has denied that it has been involved in settlement negotiations.

The Justice Department has spent more than $1 million and reviewed thousands of pages of documents to investigate the claims.

If the federal government joins as a plaintiff, it would be significant because with it comes almost unlimited resources to investigate and prosecute the suit.

However, Egan has said the suit will continue even without participation by the federal government.