When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hires its new program manager for the Hanford nuclear reservation, that person should be based in Richland — not Seattle.
It shouldn’t even be a question.
Amazingly, though, it appears the federal government is considering the possibility of allowing EPA’s future Hanford program manager to supervise from afar.
This would be an unwelcome and unwise shift from past and current practice.
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The EPA is one of the federal government’s monitoring agencies for Hanford cleanup, and we don’t see a reason to keep the local boss somewhere other than local.
The program manager has been based in the Tri-Cities since Hanford cleanup began, but that could change after the August retirement of manager Dennis Faulk.
EPA officials are now looking for his replacement, and say the new hire could be based at the agency’s Seattle office.
That would leave the Richland office with just four people assigned to keep an eye on Hanford cleanup. Compare that to the Washington State Department of Ecology — another Hanford regulator — with about 70 employees in Richland.
It seems to us the EPA needs more staff in the Tri-Cities, not less.
Hanford is the largest nuclear cleanup site in the nation, contaminated from World War II and Cold War production of plutonium for the country’s nuclear weapons program.
The federal government made this mess and has a duty to clean it up.
Since our community has to live next door to Hanford, the least federal officials can do is make sure one of its lead representatives — the EPA Hanford program manager — lives here too.
We need a Hanford EPA chief who is accessible and part of the community. That person also needs to be able to physically get to the Hanford site at a moment’s notice in case of an emergency or tenuous situation.
The Hanford Advisory Board is also pushing to keep the Hanford EPA chief in Richland.
Susan Leckban, chairwoman of the advisory board, recently wrote a letter to the EPA expressing the group’s concerns. She said the program manager should be close to Hanford in order to provide a prompt response to unusual Hanford incidents.
She also said the manager needs to maintain a confident presence in the Tri-Cities in order to understand community concerns.
We agree. A watchdog can’t do a good job if it’s not at home.
State of the Site
While on the topic of encouraging a federal presence, we also believe the Department of Energy needs to return to its former practice of conducting its Hanford State of the Site meetings face-to-face.
The Hanford Advisory Board recently sent a letter to DOE, EPA and the state Ecology Department asking that meetings be held annually, in-person, throughout the region and starting this spring.
“The board believes that in-person meetings with decision makers demonstrate a true commitment to the goals of transparency and public policy deliberations,” the board said.
The three agencies held a virtual State of the Site on the internet earlier this year, but have not held an in-person meeting since 2014.
When the meetings are held in-person, the public is more encouraged to ask questions and share opinions. The energy is different, and agency leaders can’t duck the hard questions as easily.
Technology can be a useful tool, but nothing compares to a face-to-face dialogue.
In-person Hanford State of Site meetings are needed again.