When created 20 years ago, the Hanford Advisory Board’s primary mission was to serve as a diverse, representative body providing informed recommendations and consensus advice on major policy issues related to Hanford cleanup. In 1994, the board was chartered by the Department of Energy (DOE) under the Federal Advisory Committee Act as an Environmental Management Site Specific Advisory Board (EM SSAB), and continues to serve in that capacity.
Today, the 60-plus members of the board still address significant Hanford Site cleanup issues. In addition to providing quality, high-level advice to the Tri-Party (TPA) agencies — the Washington Department of Ecology, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and DOE — the board also is asked to engage and inform local and Washington, Oregon and Idaho regional communities about cleanup issues as well. Most importantly, through those first 20 years, core board values — respect for worker health and safety, protecting the Columbia River, restoring groundwater, operating with a bias for remove-treat-dispose and so forth — have not wavered. Specific cleanup issues have shifted from time to time, but the board’s support for and insistence on meaningful cleanup that is protective of the public and the environment has not.
While celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2014, the board devoted some time to reviewing its past, commenting on its present, and speculating about its future. Because our mission and purpose had not changed and our accomplishments were well documented, the task was not difficult.
Between 1994 and 2014, the board membership produced and passed over 280 pieces of advice, and wrote, edited and evaluated a similar number of guides, white papers, letters and comments on subjects such as effective public involvement, groundwater cleanup, worker health and safety, and the preservation of historical properties and artifacts. Members also participated in public budget workshops, State of the Site meetings, tank waste forums and community meetings where they gathered and shared information.
A similar range of board products and activities is anticipated for 2015. There will be few changes in the board’s obligations, responsibilities and goals, but there certainly will be changes in how the board goes about meeting those obligations.
Since 2013, the board has been encouraged by new DOE leadership, the TPA and the EM SSAB and its membership to improve its public involvement/public outreach activities, and to amend how the board/TPA agencies develop and align policy advice. We have been asked to examine how board activities and board member participation in those activities can become more efficient. In addition, budget reductions have contributed to modified facilitation services, shorter and fewer committee meetings and compressed travel funds for some board activities. Thus, the board is frequently asked to do more with less, and it has done so.
The board work/action plan and issue manager process is being modified, and the addition of project managers and DOE leadership to committee discussions has improved these deliberations dramatically. The number of scheduled committee meetings is being reduced, and difficult issues like tank farm vapors and worker health and safety are provided more time for analysis. Critically, the board continues to explore how to best inform the general public about Hanford cleanup and how best to schedule meetings by day, time of day and topic for that purpose. Adding eight new members to the board within the year brings fresh energy to the meeting table, and the Executive Interest Committee is exploring how to add a nonvoting student membership position(s) to the board.
Currently, the long-term benefits of these 2015 changes are unclear. Yet for an organization that has managed to survive 20 years while helping diverse regional and local interests to address difficult cleanup issues successfully, the promise of success is quite good.