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"Forget the Rest" blog
For immediate release Friday,
January 23, 1998

Contacts: Bob Schaeffer (617) 489-0461
Barbara Finamore (202) 289-2371
Greg Mello (505) 982-7747

DOE Charged With Contempt for Failure to Analyze Nuclear Weapons Cleanup Plans,
Plaintiffs Ask Federal Court to Imprison Secretary Pena and Top Aides, Assess Fines and Cancel Illegal Decisions

A coalition of nearly forty environmental and peace groups, including the Los Alamos Study Group and Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, is today asking a federal judge to find U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Federico Pena and other senior agency officials in contempt for DOE's ongoing failure to honor a court order to complete a thorough analysis of the U.S. nuclear weapons clean-up program. 

The contempt motion filed with D.C. District Judge Stanley Sporkin seeks imprisonment of Pena and two top deputies until DOE produces a binding schedule for preparing and issuing a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) on the agency's Environmental Restoration and Waste Management program.  DOE had agreed to complete the PEIS in a stipulation signed by Judge Sporkin in October, 1990, to settle a lawsuit brought by many of the same groups. 

Plaintiffs are also asking the federal court to order DOE to withdraw its recent decisions concerning the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) and policies for treating and storing transuranic wastes because they are not based on a complete analysis of environmental impacts and alternatives. 

For DOE's "neglect, failure, and willful refusal to comply with and obey the stipulation," plaintiffs are seeking more than $5 million dollars in punitive fines and a penalty of $5,000 per day if the PEIS is not completed within one year, as well as compensatory damages to cover their costs and attorneys fees for bringing the contempt action.  The fines and penalties would fund public monitoring of DOE environmental programs. 

At a court session last October 27, Judge Sporkin invited plaintiffs to file a motion seeking to hold DOE in contempt for its failure to honor its commitment to complete a PEIS.  Judge Sporkin encouraged the naming of a specific DOE official who would be subject to imprisonment. 

Simultaneously, Judge Sporkin urged the parties to seek a negotiated settlement.  For the past three months, plaintiffs say they have attempted to get senior DOE officials to agree to fulfill their legal obligations.  But, according to Barbara Finamore, a lawyer at the Natural Resources Defense Council who represents the groups, "The agency slammed the door on further discussions." 

"Defendants had knowledge of a clear and unambiguous court order, one which they agreed to in writing," Ms. Finamore continued.  "Yet, they willfully failed to comply, a position DOE leaders maintain to this day.  The contempt motion is designed to force DOE to obey the court's order to analyze the impacts of and alternatives to the nation's most expensive clean-up program." 

Without approval of the court or plaintiffs, DOE decided only to pursue an evaluation of its waste management activities.  No review of the agency's plans to clean up the legacy of nuclear weapons production, one of the largest engineering projects in the history of civilization, with an estimated total cost of more than $250 billion, was ever conducted. 

"The DOE cleanup program is largely in a state of paralysis nationwide, including at Los Alamos.  It is held back by poor management, runaway contractors, and pork-barrel priorities. DOE has already wasted tens of billions of dollars of taxpayer money without accomplishing doing very much.  Without a clear plan, more money will be wasted, and sites won't get cleaned up," said Greg Mello, Study Group Director.  "This motion is an attempt by small groups of ordinary citizens to supply the backbone DOE lacks.  We are asking the Court to help the DOE stand up to the corporations who control it for their own benefit."  A copy of the contempt motion will be available from the Study Group or CCNS.


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