Washington attorney general blasts Hanford nuclear cleanup report

Recommendations on environmental cleanup in a new report to Congress are “misinformed and reckless,” said Bob Ferguson, Washington attorney general, in a letter sent to key congressional officials Monday.

His letter followed criticisms Thursday by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on a report requested by Congress. The Department of Energy was directed to analyze how effectively it considers and addresses risk in environmental cleanup at Hanford and other nuclear cleanup sites.

The report’s conclusion that federal and state cleanup laws “are somehow an impediment to effective cleanup is astonishing,” Ferguson said.

“Let me be clear: Removal of these drivers, as recommended by the report, will result in less oversight, less accountability and less cleanup at the most hazardous sites in North America,” Ferguson said in his letter to the leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Energy and Water Development.

Also troubling is the report’s criticism of the state of Washington’s use of lawsuits to compel DOE to meet cleanup deadlines, the letter said.

The report recommends that Congress pass legislation prohibiting the use of consent decrees to enforce deadlines set in the Tri-Party Agreement. Disputes over missed deadlines or other requirements would be decided by a panel of independent experts established by the federal government.

The increasing use of court litigation and legally binding consent decrees to enforce missed deadlines, particularly at Hanford, skews cleanup priorities by requiring limited funds be spent on the requirements and deadlines chosen by states, regardless of the risk posed and competing needs nationally, the report said.

“Although we have frequently negotiated and re-negotiated deadlines and milestones, Energy has made litigation an unfortunate necessity by failing to comply with its obligations and refusing to be accountable for failures,” Ferguson said.

He pointed out that the state is in court because DOE is unable to meet deadlines it agreed to in a 2010 consent decree to resolve a 2008 lawsuit brought by the state over missed deadlines. DOE knew it would miss deadlines just months after the consent decree was negotiated, Ferguson said.

“The report’s recommendation to remove the litigation option from states is the wrong approach,” Ferguson said in the letter. “Doing so would further injure states like Washington that have already been forced to shoulder far more than our fair share of the nation’s nuclear legacy.”

Congress ordered the new report in language attached to the spending bill for the current fiscal year. DOE asked the Consortium for Risk Evaluation With Stakeholder Participation to organize a review committee to prepare the report.

The review committee has indicated it will listen to comments and questions, including from Congress, and then make a response.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews

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