Statement of Kentucky Governor Paul Patton before the Senate Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Energy and Water

October 26, 1999

 


Mr. Chairman, subcommittee members, I appreciate the opportunity to discuss with you the environmental problem at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant and to ask that this subcommittee work with the Commonwealth of Kentucky to ensure that the federal government honors its moral obligation and contractual commitment to cleanup the contamination in that area by the year 2010.  

 

I’ve submitted more detailed remarks for the record, but I’ll summarize those for the subcommittee now.

 

Mr. Chairman, subcommittee members, it’s time for the federal government to do right by Paducah, a city that’s been loyal to this plant for over 47 years.

 

 

 

 

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When the allegations contained in the federal whistleblower lawsuits first began to draw national attention in August, I asked my staff and cabinets to report to me whether we were currently doing all we could to protect the workers at the plant and the health of the general public, and the environment in the area.

 

Like Senators McConnell and Bunning, and Congressman Whitfield, I personally toured the site in August and spent time with some of the workers to see if they felt comfortable with the safety procedures that are in place at the plant. 

 

At that time, these workers told me they felt safe but were concerned about what may have happened in the past.

 

 

 

 

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I’ve also concluded that at the present time, the state is doing all it can do to contain threats to the general public’s health and safety, and all we can to monitor compliance with accepted environmental practices. But the problem gets worse every day it’s not addressed.

 

Despite the fact that I’ve found no current damage to public health in the region, my administration’s efforts have led me to one obvious and inescapable conclusion. 

 

This site is one of the most environmentally contaminated in the South, and the federal government is not devoting the necessary funds to meet its obligation to clean it up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In 1994, this site was placed on the National Priorities List.  After that designation, our Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Cabinet entered into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), whereby the DOE agreed to fund and complete the cleanup of the site by the year 2010. 

 

We wanted, and felt it would be reasonable to have this work done by 2007, but in an effort to be cooperative, we accepted the later date. 

 

But we now discover that, based on the current rate of progress, it won’t be cleaned up in our lifetime.

 

I’ll leave the details of contamination at the site to the later panels of regulators.  But I can assure you that we have now determined that the situation is more serious than we first thought. 

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This committee needs to know that this is a site with: acres of radioactively contaminated waste materials and scrap metal in piles; open ditches contaminated with elements like plutonium; radioactive groundwater plumes moving toward the Ohio River at an alarming rate; and 37,000 cylinders of depleted uranium stored outdoors, exposed to the elements and inadequately protected from deterioration. 

 

As I’ve learned more about the environmental hazards at the site, I’ve become most alarmed not by the extent of the contamination (although it is alarming) – but by the fact that the DOE does not currently have, nor does it plan to request in the near future, sufficient funds to address these serious environmental dangers.

 

Mr. Chairman, the people of Paducah and the lower Mississippi Valley deserve better than that.

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Our best estimate is that it will require at least $200 million a year for the next 10 years totaling $2 billion to address this issue.

 

DOE has planned budget requests totaling only $630 million through fiscal year 2010. 

 

Even more disturbing, these inadequate projected requests anticipate huge funding increases beginning in 2007.  Their projections for the next 7 years average less than $50 million per year. Environmental management funding at Paducah has been about $38 million per year over the last several years. 

 

And of this $38 million, only about $11 million per year has been going to actual environmental remediation at the site.

 

 

 

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They aren’t planning to do much more during the next 7 years than they’re already doing and it will be impossible physically and financially to cram this much remediation into the last 3 years of the agreement.

 

Lacking detailed facts, our estimates average just that, but don’t take our word for it.  In the Paducah Phase I report released by DOE last week, their own investigative team admitted that: 1) the current cleanup schedule is totally unrealistic based on current funding levels, and 2) the estimated cleanup costs are based on faulty assumptions such as unproven technologies and leaving hazardous materials on site.

 

It’s time for the Department of Energy to reassess the cost of this cleanup and to be forthcoming about the true projected costs.

 

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Mr. Chairman, the Congress has already made provisions to fund this cleanup.  The DOE environmental management activities at the site are funded from the Uranium Enrichment Decontamination and Decommissioning Fund (D&D Fund). 

 

The total appropriations from this fund for fiscal year 1999 was about $220 million – of which Paducah received about $36 million.  We believe this is not a rational division of the $220 million.  And it disturbs me that the responsible officials believed that Oak Ridge should get over 60% of this money and Paducah less than 20%.

 

But even more disturbing is the fact that the D&D fund takes in almost $610 million per year and only $220 million is appropriated for its intended use. 

 

The D&D fund has a positive balance of over $1.5 billion.

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Mr. Chairman, it’s time for the Federal Government to accept responsibility for this problem and begin to eliminate it.  As I’ve discussed with you previously, I’m asking the U.S. Congress, the DOE, OMB and the White House to immediately appropriate an additional $100 million per year to the cleanup at Paducah so we can adequately document the problem and begin the cleanup in a serious way. 

 

Only a figure of this magnitude can get us moving toward completing the cleanup by 2010.

 

I’ve already informed the administration that if they are going to be an environmental administration in a regulatory fashion, passing the cost along to the customers of private companies, then they must also be an environmental administration in a matter of federal financial responsibility. 

 

 

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I have, in the strongest terms, urged the administration to ask for enough funds to do this job.  If they do, I ask the Congress to approve it.  If they don’t, I ask the Congress to insure that our government keeps its commitments to the people of the region affected by this problem.

 

I call upon the Congress to find a way to work with the DOE to fully fund the D&D program for its intended purposes and to make certain that funds are available to complete the cleanup at Paducah by 2010. 

 

I stand ready to work with, The White House, our congressional delegation, and the political leadership of both parties in this effort.  But I’m determined to get the process accelerated and see to it that the agreement reached last year is implemented.

 

 

 

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As a result of the signing of the Federal Facilities Agreement, the Commonwealth now has several legal means at its disposal to insure that the cleanup proceeds in a timely manner.

 

If current funding levels are maintained, the Commonwealth believes that DOE will be in default of their agreement as early as fiscal year 2001. 

 

Let me assure you and the people of Paducah and Kentucky that I will continue my efforts on this issue and that our administration will use every political or legal means at our disposal to make certain these obligations of the federal government are met.  We can in good conscience do less.

 

Thank you Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee for your time and I’d be happy to entertain any questions.