The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Wednesday, May 28, 2003

DOE to oversee cleanup
The Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant will no longer have to compete with Oak Ridge, Tenn., for uranium cleanup funds.

By Joe Walker

The U.S. Department of Energy has finally approved establishing a Lexington office to oversee cleanup at uranium enrichment plants in Paducah and Piketon, Ohio.

The move, reported by U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville, eliminates a huge layer of bureaucracy by removing the plants from control of DOE's sprawling Oak Ridge, Tenn., operations office. It formalizes Paducah-Piketon cleanup manager Bill Murphie's direct accountability to DOE headquarters in Washington, D.C.

That is a change long advocated by Whitfield and others on Capitol Hill so that the Paducah plant won't have to compete for funding under the Oak Ridge umbrella. Press Secretary Jeff Miles said Whitfield was "very happy" after learning Tuesday of the decision by Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham.

"The secretary of energy has signed off on the Lexington office," Miles said. "I can't speculate on when it will be up and running."

Attempts to reach DOE spokesman Joe Davis, who was traveling Tuesday, were unsuccessful. Murphie said earlier this month that he hoped the decision would be made soon. The location was picked because it is about the same distance from the two plants.

Whitfield and Sens. Jim Bunning and Mitch McConnell have been pushing the change for more than three years after confronting senior Energy Department managers in congressional hearings. They said the Paducah and Piketon plants were not getting their fair share of cleanup funds compared with many Energy Department facilities in Oak Ridge.

Bunning has said that more than 75 percent of the $1 billion-plus spent at Paducah has been to manage waste rather than clean it up.

In February, Assistant Energy Secretary Jessie Roberson said the budget had funding for the Lexington office, expected to have 19 employee with some working in both plant communities. That followed a November statement by Davis that the Lexington plan had not been presented to Abraham and probably wasn't "going anywhere."

Murphie has been traveling between Washington and the two plants. Having a Lexington office puts him closer to state environmental regulators in Frankfort with whom he has been trying to reach an agreement on final cleanup actions such as for a massive amount of contaminated groundwater at Paducah.

"At what point do we say we've spent all the money we can?" he said in a recent interview.

Murphie was among 27 of 70 senior environmental management executives who were reassigned from Washington to various sites nationwide to improve cleanup. The Lexington decision comes more than a year after he was appointed.

Uncertainty over the status of his office has concerned such organizations as the Paducah Area Community Reuse Organization that channel Energy Department funding into business ventures to offset job losses by nuclear workers.