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
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