There's one glaring error in a new report suggesting that the Department of Energy consider a nationwide triage system for ranking environmental projects at Hanford and other polluted sites.
When it comes to cleaning up the massive environmental mess left at Hanford, a ranking system already exists. It's called the Tri-Party Agreement.
The document has stood the test of time, serving as the foundation for decisions on Hanford cleanup for more than 22 years.
Any proposal that would supersede the pact ought to be rejected out of hand.
That includes recommendations in a report released earlier this month from the DOE Office of Inspector General, which attempts to address management issues created by the breadth and complexity of the department's cleanup program.
As the report notes, congressional efforts to bring federal spending under control threaten to erode allocations needed to deal with the environmental mess generated during nearly 70 years of nuclear weapons production.
DOE now spends about $6 billion a year on environmental cleanup -- about a third of it at Hanford. A recent lifecycle analysis for Hanford estimated costs to complete cleanup at $115 billion.
But the government's legal and moral obligation to repair the environmental damage at Hanford doesn't disappear just because the work is expensive or times are tough.
We're sympathetic to the challenges the government faces but find the argument for a systematic overhaul unconvincing.
We're particularly unimpressed with the suggestion that DOE hand over triage decisions on environmental priorities to a respected outside group such as the National Academy of Sciences.
The experts would supposedly be better than local and regional interests in deciding how best to spend cleanup money.
It sounds good until you remember that it was the experts -- free from outside influences -- who created Hanford's environmental mess in the first place.
The legacy of a federal policy that freed DOE and its predecessors from all oversight includes 56 million gallons of nuclear wastes stored in sometimes leaky underground tanks at Hanford's central plateau.
The Northwest has had quite enough of leaving environmental management decisions to the experts.
The multibillion-dollar cleanup budget is no doubt a tempting line item to lawmakers from outside the Northwest looking for ways to cut the federal budget.
But as costly as Hanford cleanup is, it's cheaper than the alternative.
If Hanford's toxic assortment of radioactive and chemical hazards isn't permanently isolated from the Columbia River, an entire region is threatened.
According to the report, the proposal for a triage system and other suggestions for the cleanup program are intended to provide a starting point for conversation.
In other words, let's talk about ways DOE can reduce its commitment to dealing with the Cold War's deadly leftovers at Hanford and elsewhere.
"We are mindful of the fact that they represent approaches which could be both difficult to implement and highly controversial," the report said.
It has that right, at least.