Regulators and DOE will resume negotiations on meeting milestones along the way. DOE says only the last deadline is needed.
By Bill Bartleman firstname.lastname@example.org
Christine Whitman, secretary of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, had been scheduled to rule on the issue this week but decided to let negotiations continue to work toward a compromise suitable to DOE.
The dispute involves DOE's insistence that it not be forced to establish and meet milestones, or deadlines, for completing each segment of the cleanup.
DOE claims the paperwork and pressure of meeting deadlines adds millions of dollars in costs and that the money could be better spent on actual cleanup work. It says the only important deadline is to have all of the major work completed by 2010.
State and federal EPA officials, however, say that setting deadlines for specific projects is the only way to monitor the progress of work and ensure that DOE is diligent in completing the cleanup on time. Without deadlines, said Hank List, secretary of the Kentucky Natural Resources Cabinet, they would have no authority or power to hold DOE accountable.
The major projects include removal of contamination in the north-south drainage ditch, removal of contaminated storage areas, removal of thousands of tons of contaminated scrap metal, cleaning buildings contaminated with radioactive material and cleaning contaminated groundwater.
The work is expected to cost at least $1 billion over the next eight years.
Dick Green, an EPA special adviser to the regional director in Atlanta, said regulators are entering the negotiations with an open mind to DOE's concerns.
"The primary issue is going to be how many milestones we set," Green said in a telephone interview from Atlanta. "We don't want to be unreasonable and set an excessive amount of milestones, but we need more than DOE has been willing to put on the table."
Green said he's hopeful the issue will be resolved by April 1, the deadline set in an agreement signed Friday by DOE, EPA and state regulators.
If there's no agreement at the end of 90 days, the issue will be reinstated as a formal dispute and be resolved by Whitman.