DOE rebuke doesn't sit well with Hanford Advisory Board
Dept. of energy trying to change HAB's membership, limit topics it can discuss. HAB is the citizen advisory board for Hanford cleanup.
November 8th, 2003
DOE rebuke doesn't sit well with HAB
By John Stang Herald staff writer
PORTLAND -- The Hanford Advisory Board rejected on Friday claims by the U.S. Department of Energy that it is too heavy with special interests, is inefficient and needs to represent more people.
"The HAB should strengthen its representation of the views of the broader Pacific Northwest public. The views of organized special interest groups appear to be dominating much of the board's actions," said Keith Klein and Roy Schepens, managers of the two DOE offices that run Hanford, in a letter dated Oct. 9.
The letter suggested that the HAB put term limits on its members, and that the use of alternate members should be reduced.
Also, DOE recently told HAB Chairman Todd Martin and chairpersons of citizens boards at other DOE sites that it wants their activities to stay within a predetermined list of topics.
On Friday, DOE official Beth Bilson told members of the advisory board at the Doubletree Hotel in Portland that DOE's Hanford offices merely want some limitations to better provide the right DOE experts at the appropriate HAB meetings.
Yet, the letter didn't sit well with HAB officials.
"We are in vehement disagreement with those proposals," Martin said.
Shelly Cimon, HAB co-vice chairwoman said, "I'm also incensed because we're looking at stuff that hasn't been an issue, and now its thrown in our faces. ... I don't feel we've misused our positions on the board."
The state and the U.S Environmental Protection Agency also oppose DOE's suggestions.
Its clout comes from its members representing the entire Hanford political spectrum, and any board stance must have unanimous consent of those members. Those factors led groups that had been enemies, such as Tri-City interests and regional watchdog groups, to become strong allies on most Hanford matters.
The HAB has 31 voting members. Each member has one to three alternates backing up him or her.
The board has seven representatives from Mid-Columbia governments, one from Tri-City business interests, five from Hanford's work force, one from a Mid-Columbia environmental group, five from Northwest environmental and watchdog groups, two representing public health, two from area tribes, two from Oregon, two from Washington' universities and four representing the public at large.
Of the 31 voting seats, 16 are held by Benton and Franklin counties residents, mostly from the Tri-Cities. Five are held by groups that Tri-Citians would have considered enemies several years ago.
Some HAB seats have had regular turnover. Some still have the same members from 10 years ago. On Friday, at the suggestion of Martin Yanez of Granger, a new HAB public-at-large representative, the HAB decided to explore reaching out to the Mid-Columbia's Spanish-speaking communities.
And in the past two years, the HAB has cut back on its meetings to save DOE money.
DOE's letter prompted a letter Oct. 30 from Oregon's Office of Energy that echoed a July 16 HAB letter protesting DOE's rationale for suggested changes.
Oregon's Oct. 30 letter noted that many HAB constituencies use alternate members as specialists on specific Hanford issues. And most HAB and HAB committee meetings take place in Richland, which keeps travel costs down.
Also "because of significant turnover in regulator, DOE and contractor personnel, the HAB is one of the few entities that maintains the institutional history necessary for effective cleanup of Hanford," Oregon's letter said.
DOE has had four energy secretaries during the HAB's existence.
The Oregon letter continued: "With respect to 'the views of organized special interest groups' dominating much of the HAB's work, the HAB operates on consensus precisely to prevent this from happening."
At Friday's meeting, HAB members also objected to DOE putting limits on what they can address. Martin noted that half of the advisory board members at DOE's Paducah, Ky., site recently resigned in protest because they thought DOE was restricting what they could discuss.
Nick Ceto, the EPA's Hanford site manager, told the HAB Friday, "There may be times when some of us Tri-Party agencies might not want to hear what you want to say. You have to have the independence to tell us what we don't want to hear."
HAB members cited two instances where the board correctly poked into issues that were not on the official list of topics put before them.
One was raising questions on tank farm workers being exposed to vapors. HAB members said DOE cooperated well with their inquiries, and that issue was quickly tackled.
Also, board members voiced frustration with DOE not sharing annual budget information in detail, believing they should receive much more information.
"It's a black box," said HAB member Pam Brown, representing Richland.
Prior to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham assuming office in 2001, DOE routinely provided detailed budget calculations in public workshops both before and after its annual cleanup budget request went to Congress. DOE has discontinued that practice, frustrating the HAB, the EPA and the state.
add a comment on this article
add a comment on this article