A Dec. 17 decision could remove intermediate deadlines. Critics say that would let the Department of Energy drag its feet.
By Bill Bartleman email@example.com
DOE wants to amend its cleanup agreement with environmental regulators to remove a provision that requires it to set dates for completing each segment of the cleanup work, such as the removal of contamination in the north-south drainage ditch, removal of contaminated storage areas and removal of thousands of tons of contaminated scrap metal.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials at the regional headquarters in Atlanta and the Kentucky Natural Resources Cabinet use milestone dates for each project as a means of keeping DOE on schedule.
DOE wants the only enforceable date to be the one that requires all the work be completed by the end of the decade, according to Hank List, who last month became secretary of the Natural Resources cabinet, replacing the late James Bickford.
Without those milestones, List said there is no way to monitor the progress and force DOE to get the work done on time.
DOE, however, contends it spends a lot of time and money preparing paperwork related to the deadlines. Removing that paperwork from the bureaucracy would mean more money spent on actual cleanup work, DOE argues.
Removing the completion dates also would allow DOE to follow what it calls an accelerated cleanup plan, which also has been rejected by regulators because it would require less cleanup work than is required under an agreement signed four years ago.
After state and federal EPA officials rejected DOE's request for a change in the cleanup agreement, DOE filed an appeal with Christy Todd Whitman, secretary of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. She is to rule on the appeal by Dec. 17, List said.
"We are trying to schedule a meeting with her to explain our side of the dispute," he said.
"They (DOE) already are two years behind in the work they promised to have done. What would make anyone think they'd get the work done any faster if they don't have the milestones?"
As a last resort, List said the state would sue DOE seeking to enforce the 1998 cleanup agreement.
Dick Green, an EPA special adviser to the regional director in Atlanta, said requiring dates to complete each project helps facilitate planning to complete the work. Without deadlines, he's concerned DOE would continue to put off work.
"They only want to establish beginning dates for work, but no end dates," Green said.
He said that even under the current work schedule, it will be difficult for DOE to complete the cleanup work on time. "2010 is a target date, but it may not be a realistic date," he said.
The cleanup involves elimination of groundwater contamination, removal of contaminated material from landfills and removal of contaminated scrap metal.