Issues proposed revision to 2010 Consent Decree
AGO joint release with the Governor's Office and Department of Ecology
OLYMPIA – Governor Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson today issued new demands to the U.S. Department of Energy to ensure timely Hanford cleanup in the form of a proposed plan to revise the 2010 Consent Decree. The proposal aims to prevent the federal government from delaying cleanup of Hanford’s radioactive and hazardous tank waste.
The state’s plan seeks to keep Hanford cleanup on track in spite of the federal government’s repeated statements that it will not be able to meet important cleanup deadlines. Today’s action is the first step under the Consent Decree that could precede a request from the court to establish new requirements.
USDOE also submitted a draft plan to the state today, though an initial review by the state shows the plan does not provide sufficient detail. Inslee and Ferguson expressed frustration that it took the federal government more than two years from when the state was first told that deadlines were at risk to provide a draft plan for a path forward. The official proposal received this morning from the federal government does not provide details on how USDOE will meet the at-risk deadlines and get back on schedule despite repeated requests by the state.
“Although I appreciate Secretary Moniz placing a high priority on Hanford, the state needs a plan that includes a detailed and comprehensive path forward,” said Governor Jay Inslee. “Our proposed amendments to the consent decree address this need by providing very specific steps for meeting these deadlines to ensure Hanford cleanup is completed in a timely manner.”
The state’s plan includes four requirements for the federal government:
- Timely Waste Treatment: The Waste Treatment Plant is behind schedule. The state demands a revised step-by-step schedule to complete construction of the Waste Treatment Plant and begin treating waste as soon as possible. The state’s plan requires the completion of all waste treatment by the same ultimate deadline—no later than 2047.
- Remove Waste from Leaky Tanks: The state demands new specific requirements to get the waste out of the leaky single-shell tanks as soon as possible. The state’s plan creates rigid pacing deadlines to ensure waste removal from the single-shell tanks is completed no later than 2040. It further requires new double-shell tanks to be built to accommodate waste until the Waste Treatment Plant is completed.
- Address Environmental Risks: The state demands new environmental safety requirements for groundwater treatment and to minimize leaking as the waste is removed and treated.
- Additional Accountability: The state has been frustrated by the lack of timely information from the federal government. The state demands new terms to the court-ordered Consent Decree, including regular progress reports filed with the state and the court.
“Today, the state is demanding the federal government meet its legal commitments at Hanford,” said Attorney General Bob Ferguson. “We are proposing new requirements to increase accountability, protect the environment, and reduce the possibility of further delays.”
The state Department of Ecology, USDOE and the federal Environmental Protection Agency signed the Tri-Party Agreement in 1989 to establish a plan to clean up radioactive and hazardous waste at Hanford.
In 2008, the state filed a lawsuit in federal court when it was clear the U.S. Department of Energy would be unable to meet key deadlines in the Tri-Party Agreement.
The state and federal government settled the lawsuit in 2010 and agreed upon a series of new deadlines for completing the retrieval and treatment of 56 million gallons of high-level radioactive and hazardous waste from Hanford’s 177 underground tanks.
The nearer-term deadlines—including deadlines for constructing and beginning operation of Hanford’s Waste Treatment Plant—were included in a Consent Decree.
Longer-term deadlines, including new final deadlines for retrieving waste from all single-shell tanks no later than 2040 and completing treatment of all tank waste no later than 2047, were established in the Tri-Party Agreement.
The federal government has since informed the state that nearly all of the Consent Decree deadlines are in jeopardy, including the startup of the entire Waste Treatment Plant, which was set to begin operations in 2019.
While the state’s proposed plan acknowledges delays in completion of the Waste Treatment Plant, the state does not propose to push back the final deadlines for retrieving all single-shell tanks and treating all tank waste. In fact, the state’s plan demands those ultimate deadlines are met and puts in place new requirements designed to ensure on-time completion.
For example, the state’s proposed plan would require one of the three major facilities at the Waste Treatment Plant to begin transforming tank waste into glass by 2019. The state’s plan makes these final deadlines part of the Consent Decree, making them part of a court order.
Under the legally binding provisions in the Consent Decree, USDOE must notify the state by April 15, 2014, whether it accepts the state’s proposed plan. If it is not accepted, the federal government must explain the reasons for disagreeing. If the state does not hear from the USDOE by April 15, the state may ask the court to impose the new requirements, even over USDOE’s objection.
- Jaime Smith, Governor Inslee’s Communications Office, 360-902-4136
- Janelle Guthrie, Attorney General’s Director of Communications, 360-586-0725
- Dieter Bohrmann, Ecology communications manager, 509-372-7954