The state and federal government have made some progress in talks about amending Hanford's court-enforced consent decree, but have a long way to go in the next few days, Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday.
He was in the Tri-Cities for the ribbon cutting of the Trios Southridge Hospital in Kennewick, but also met with a small group of Tri-City area leaders to discuss Hanford.
A dispute about the consent decree could go to court as soon as next week if the state and the Department of Energy don't come to an agreement.
The Tri-City Development Council and Hanford Communities, a coalition of Tri-City area governments, warned the governor in April that they were concerned about the state's demands and how they would affect other important work at Hanford given tight DOE budgets.
The governor spent about an hour at TRIDEC offices Friday, meeting with TRIDEC and other officials.
He left open the possibility that he would continue discussions with TRIDEC in the next few weeks, said Gary Petersen, TRIDEC vice president of Hanford programs.
The consent decree includes deadlines for emptying some of Hanford's leak-prone tanks and for building and operating the vitrification plant to turn the waste into a stable glass form for disposal. DOE has said most of the remaining deadlines in the 2010 consent decree are at risk.
The state has proposed an amendment with a lengthy and detailed list of new deadlines and requirements related to tanks and the vit plant, including that new tanks be built to securely store 8 million gallons of waste. DOE has put the cost of new tanks at $800 million.
TRIDEC has said that the state should consider more immediate risks that could be robbed of funding if a court requires DOE to implement the state's amendment. Projects that pose an immediate risk to the public and the environment include radioactive waste stored underwater in aging pools and a uranium plume threatening groundwater.
Inslee said during a brief news conference Friday that DOE must honor its cleanup commitments to the state. He discounted concerns that returning the issue to federal court could slow progress at Hanford while the case is being decided, saying he is confident that the state's strategy will speed up the pace of environmental cleanup.
TRIDEC has estimated that the state's proposed amendment to the consent decree would add up to $400 million annually to Hanford cleanup costs, without adding in costs of new tanks. Those expenses would come at a time of tight federal budgets, with the administration already proposing a budget cut for Hanford next year.
The state will not accept lack of funds as an excuse for the federal government not to meet its commitments at Hanford, Inslee said.
"We continue in discussions with the federal government and want it to be a good partner," he said. "That has not happened yet."
But the state remains hopeful and resolute that negotiations will result in the federal government meeting cleanup commitments, he said.
State Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, was among the community leaders who met with Inslee. "I'm frustrated because the emphasis needs to be on cleanup and not on negotiations," she said.
The objective in the meeting with Inslee was to have an open, honest and candid discussion about issues surrounding Hanford and to give the governor a chance to hear the views of Tri-City-area residents, she said.
Hanford has made significant progress, including treating contaminated groundwater and being close to finishing cleanup of most contamination in the 220 square miles along the Columbia River next year, said Kennewick Mayor Steve Young, who also met with Inslee.
Continued work to clean up land along the river corridor and to build the vitrification plant is a higher priority than building new storage tanks, Young said. Diverting money to build new tanks would put continued work on important cleanup elsewhere at Hanford at high risk.
Inslee's interest in Hanford and the Tri-Cities and his aggressive stand on environmental cleanup is appreciated, Young said.
But at the same time, those who live in the Tri-Cities want the governor to be cautious when he discusses Hanford, Young said. People who live in the Tri-Cities do not believe they live in a dangerous place.
Facts about Hanford should not be hidden, Young said, but Inslee should seek out the Tri-City community as a partner and a resource in his discussions about Hanford.
-- Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @HanfordNews