On Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced that there won’t be another extension to the twice-postponed deadline for reaching common cause with the U.S. Department of Energy over cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
Booyah, enough kick-the-can.
“We’ve made a more-than-good-faith effort to resolve this through mediation,” Ferguson told The Herald on Sunday. “That’s obviously been unsuccessful, and it may be time for us to seek a resolution through the federal court.”
The DOE, run by former MIT professor Ernest Moniz, mimics a procrastinating grad student with a wish-it-away M.O. But 56 million gallons of highly radioactive nuclear waste has an apocalyptic aspect about it that can’t be wished off.
As Inslee’s office reports, the state has 30 days to file a motion in the U.S. Federal District Court for Eastern Washington, barring an 11th-hour agreement. And the court is institutionally prone to do the right thing — something the feds hope to sidestep.
In March, Moniz met with Inslee and Ferguson to discuss the federal government’s revised cleanup proposal. The feds’ endgame is to avoid triggering the 2010 Hanford Cleanup Consent Decree, a binding agreement that flows from a 2008 lawsuit. But bypassing the decree’s legal hammer requires delivering more than good intentions.
Last year, Moniz informed Inslee that the department wouldn’t meet two 2014 deadlines related to the consent decree. These projects include waste retrieval from two of Hanford’s aging single-shell tanks and finishing construction of a low activity waste facility (“low activity” being the operative description of work thus far.) The department has missed two other waste-treatment deadlines, sans explanation.
In 2013, the Energy Department announced that seven of 177 underground tanks at Hanford were leaking (a “decrease of liquid level” in department-speak.) Inslee worked to develop a friendly dialogue with the new Energy secretary, hoping that soft elbows would persuade a hidebound department to keep its promises.
DOE has the funding to address what it terms in its strategic plan as, “the legal and moral imperative of cleaning up legacy nuclear waste to protect human health and the environment.” (A moral imperative that only merits half a page in DOE’s 32-page vision.)
Say goodbye to the soft elbows. The governor and attorney general are moving forward.
The endgame is a real cleanup in real time. There’s no other choice.