The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Thursday, July 24, 2003

USEC plant cleanup dealt blow
The lack of agreement between the Department of Energy and state environmental regulators is blamed for a House bill allocating $26.1 million less than is needed at the site.

By Joe Walker

Congress has blamed the Department of Energy and state environmental regulators for not cooperating to hasten cleanup of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

The House of Representatives approved on Friday $26.1 million less than the roughly $120 million DOE sought for Paducah cleanup as part of the 2004 Energy and Water Bill. The Appropriations Committee said the "reduction reflects the failure to reach agreement on accelerated cleanup for the Paducah site."

The Senate is expected to vote on its version of the legislation within two weeks. Although the Senate bill, approved July 17 by the Appropriations Committee, meets DOE's budget for Paducah, the committee said it was dismayed that the department and Kentucky Cabinet for Natural Resources and Environmental Protection had failed to agree.

"Recognizing that environmental contamination poses an unacceptable risk to the health and well-being of the citizens of western Kentucky, this committee has generously provided ample resources for cleanup at Paducah for several consecutive years," the report said. "However, the inability of state and federal regulators to work cooperatively in the best interests of the citizens of Kentucky in reaching an agreement places the continued availability of such funds in jeopardy."

The Senate committee said Kentucky is the only state that has not signed a letter of intent for such an agreement with the Energy Department. It said it is eagerly awaiting the results of a General Accounting Office report on slow cleanup at Paducah and expects the report to "show the absence of an agreement and continued intransigence of all parties to have unnecessarily delayed" the work.

In April, DOE, the state and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency signed an agreement to outline work that must be completed by 2005. That ended more than a year of squabbling over DOE’s plan to accelerate cleanup by setting one final milestone of 2010 and focusing on key problem areas.

The agreement requires the three agencies to renegotiate a detailed plan by Sept. 15 for removing all hazardous waste. Paducah cleanup manager Bill Murphie has repeatedly said the Energy Department is working to meet that deadline.

Differences between the House and Senate bills must be resolved in conference. First District Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville, will ask that the outcome reflect the Senate version, said press secretary Jeff Miles. The overall House Energy and Water Bill is $220 million less than the Senate's and reflects cuts in cleanup funding at some DOE sites besides Paducah, he said.

Leon Owens, president of Local 5-550 of Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International, said he is concerned that the conference bill will include less money than the Senate version.

"That would definitely be a blow to our activities and ultimately result in job losses," he said.

USEC Inc., which operates the plant, has cut 219 hourly and salaried jobs this year. All but 29 were through early-retirement and voluntary-layoff incentives. Of the 29 forced layoffs, 16 have been hired by cleanup firms, but less cleanup money could affect those jobs, Owens said.

The Senate bill provides nearly $3.1 million for the health screening and monitoring program for former enrichment plant workers in Paducah, Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Piketon, Ohio. DOE had asked for only $1 million. The increased funding would expand the program to include testing of current workers and the continued use of the state-of-the-art helical CT scanner, which can detect lung cancer in its earliest stages.

Owens said the medical funding was increased at the urging of Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville, who with the rest of the Kentucky delegation has championed the screening program, which is overseen by the union.

"Although we're pleased on the one hand to be able to get more funding for medical screening," he said, "on the other hand it appears that the environmental management program could be cut."