June 20, 2001
Al Brooks commentary: Government has broken its covenant with citizens
And if promised cleanup was not a covenant, it was a con game by Washington

During the last decade, public participation in the DOE Environmental Management program has been a significant contributor to the shape and advancement of the necessary planning to produce a sound environmental restoration and stewardship program.

Not all members of the public have seen the level of cleanup they felt necessary; some have seen more.

It is important that the open and democratic process has produced a set of plans compliant with the Superfund laws, acceptable to the federal and state regulators, endorsed by the public and within the once projected federal funds available to DOE.

In a very real sense, these publicly produced plans are a covenant between the federal government and the greater Oak Ridge public to make the federally owned portion of our city clean and safe both in the near term and the long term. If it was not a covenant, then it was a con game from the start.

The FY 2002 president's budget reduces the Oak Ridge funding by $91 million from the FY 2001 allocated funds; scarcely more than enough to keep the overhead and waste storage functions going.

The projected cuts in the DOE Environmental Management budget along with the reallocation of funds from Oak Ridge to Portsmouth for a cold plant standby are a clear and present danger to the success of the carefully laid plans and promised cleanup.

Where the original FY 2002 plans showed 15 items of continuing cleanup work, the new plans under the president's budget show a mere four items of continuing work and three at a reduced level. Where the old plans showed 22 items of new cleanup work, the new plans show 32 cleanup items were eliminated.

The public health dangers are not immediate, but as surely as night follows day, the failure to improve and maintain the waste disposal facilities in Oak Ridge will one day unnecessarily send undesirable amounts of radioactive waste down the Clinch River. Lesser amounts will proceed from Y-12 down the Lower East Fork Poplar Creek through the city of Oak Ridge.

The city and region will continue to bear its undeserved reputation of being too dangerous to live in or even enter .

Very clearly, the federal government has broken its covenant with the citizens of the Oak Ridge region who have every right to be outrageously mad.

We accepted the challenges and risks when they were deemed necessary to the security of the country. We acted in good faith in accepting reasonable cleanup at reasonable costs only to be betrayed by the presidential budget.

Betrayal demands an appropriate and indignant outcry. The citizens of the Oak Ridge region, especially the down-streamers, should be expressing their concerns and outrage to the president and to Congress now.

It will be too late after the waste pits are eroded and breached and the waste outflow has begun.

The expression of public opinion had a great effect upon Superfund cleanup planning; it can also cause those plans to be implemented as was promised.

Our nest has been fouled; let them clean it up.

Al Brooks is a resident of Oak Ridge long active in civic and environmental concerns.