The Gloves Come Off

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The Gloves Come Off

The Gloves Come Off

Ten days. That’s the demanded due date of a signed “consent order” between Boeing, NASA, and the Department of Energy with the Department of Toxic Substances Control. DTSC is the lead agency for the massive cleanup of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory that begins with a $40 million radiological characterization. Hundreds of millions later, a supposedly ‘clean’ 2,850-acre field lab will emerge by 2017 which will then be made a park or left as open space.

Ten days is the limit that Dan Hirsch of the nuclear watchdog group Committee to Bridge the Gap, said Wednesday night, July 29, in Simi Valley at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (Rocketdyne) Workgroup meeting. Addressing the attendees, he said, “What you don’t know is that in these secret negotiations that have gone on the last seven months, DOE, NASA, and Boeing have been resisting complying with that law and attempting to break the promise that they made to the Congress.”

“Hirsch was very calm but you could tell that he was angry,” says Reverend John Southwick after the meeting that we couldn’t attend. “He knows we’re getting the runaround.”

Southwick, a member of the Radiation Rangers, filled us in about the meeting as did veteran journalist Joan Bien whose transcript of a key part of the evening follows below. We were unexpectedly called to respond to a Rocketdyne-related issue (See yesterday’s “Meltdown Denier”) which garnered quite a of reaction, in large part due to coverage in LA Observed where Kevin Roderick posted “Kaye’s meltdown ‘denier’ called out.”

It appears that in some ways, the meeting was a bust. Even though it was on the agenda, Norm Riley, DTSC’s senior project manager for the cleanup, didn’t present the signed consent order, NASA didn’t show, and the water board’s decision to rescind limits on the lab’s offsite effluent standards until June 11, 2010, had the audience apparently fairly fed up. It didn’t help matters that EPA didn’t have answers as to which contractors it would hire for the $40 million characterization, as concerns about lab accuracy and bias have repeatedly surface in both Rocketdyne and Runkle Canyon issues.

Regarding Runkle Canyon, Riley had this to say: “With respect to the Runkle Canyon project, we have not yet approved the response plan that was submitted by the developer and the developer therefore was not able to proceed with removal of tar material and additional testing prescribed by DTSC until such time as the response plan is reviewed. My hope is that we will be able to approve that response plan in the next few weeks but I don’t know exactly when it’ll happen.”

Hirsch and Riley, both workgroup members, had a number of exchanges but the following one is key to understanding just how perilous this situation seems to be getting. When Governor Schwarzenegger signed SB-990, a law that would clean up Rocketdyne to the strictest standards, the community and its activists felt that an environmental victory of historic proportions had been won.

The following transcription, however, demonstrates that the possibility of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory ever being remediated may be as distant as ever. This is not an outcome that Dan Hirsch will accept.

TRANSCRIPTION

HIRSCH: (referring to why NASA was a no show) I believe they were ordered not to attend.

RILEY: When we set this meeting we thought we would be finished with consent order negotiations involving Boeing, DOE and NASA, which have been going on for several months, and that we would have by now released the draft consent order for public review and comment. But we have not yet reached that station. We are close but there are some issues that we have not resolved and there are various alternatives that are being considered by DTSC and responsible parties to resolve those particular issues. So contrary to what we had hoped, I am not in a position this evening to present the content of the order. I can say, however, that we remain committed to assuring that we have a strong agreement with responsible parties that is SB-990 compliant and we remain committed to involving the public in the consummation of the agreement, which is to say that we will have some kind of public review and comment period when we have finished our discussions with the responsible parties.

These discussions have not been easy, they have been extremely difficult, but I think we have made substantial progress. The responsible parties have come a long way from where initially we began negotiations in the process.

With respect to the characterization work, the Group 2 review, we have found a substantial amount of information to be missing from that report and we have some significant concerns about the quality of the data that are presented in that report and we have determined therefore that it is going to have to be substantially revised and updated before we can complete (?) and evaluation of the area described in that report. A memo presenting our comments on this report will be prepared and then submitted to NASA and its consultants in the next couple of weeks. The Group 5 review is in progress.

Work in the northern drainage area continues, the clay target removal. Work is nearly completed and recent sampling shows the extent of the contamination was not is not as wide as originally feared.

With respect to the characterization work, the Group 2 review, we have found a substantial amount of information to be missing from that report and we have some significant concerns about the quality of the data that are presented in that report and we have determined therefore that it is going to have to be substantially revised and updated before we can complete (?) and evaluation of the area described in that report. A memo presenting our comments on this report will be prepared and then submitted to NASA and its consultants in the next couple of weeks. The Group 5 review is in progress.

Work in the northern drainage area continues, the clay target removal. Work is nearly completed and recent sampling shows the extent of the contamination was not is not as wide as originally feared.

[SNIP]

With respect to the Runkle Canyon project, we have not yet approved the response plan that was submitted by the developer and the developer therefore was not able to proceed with removal of tar material and additional testing prescribed by DTSC until such time as the response plan is reviewed. My hope is that we will be able to approve that response plan in the next few weeks but I don’t know exactly when it’ll happen.

HIRSCH: We have three polluters, Boeing, NASA, and DOE, who have operated for decades above the law. We wouldn’t have had this contamination in the first place if they had followed environmental rules. In the case of Rocketdyne, it ended up pleading guilty to three felony environmental crimes, illegal disposal of hazardous materials, and the deaths of a couple of its workers.

[SNIP]

So the struggle that we are currently facing is whether or not these three Responsible Parties, a term of art and an ethical term, will finally comply with the law. And the passage of 990 has not been sufficient to get these parties, these polluters, to finally get the message that they are not above the law. Now each of those three has made a commitment to the United States Congress, to the Legislators, and to the community, they will strictly comply with all of our state laws, including SB-990.

[SNIP]

What you don’t know is that in these secret negotiations that have gone on the last seven months, DOE, NASA, and Boeing have been resisting complying with that law and attempting to break the promise that they made to the Congress. And the reason that you don’t’ have a consent order before you, it is on our agenda, it’s supposed to be the main thing we are talking about, we were supposed to have presentations on it today. The main reason that those three responsible parties continue to try to sabotage that law, evade that law, to get out from under having to clean up that site to the degree that they are required by law which they are frankly have a responsibility to do….We still can’t see what’s in it and they have not agreed to sign it.

Frankly, we are running out of time and frankly they are running out of time. If in the next ten days there isn’t an agreement by these responsible parties to live up to the commitments made to the Congress, the state Legislature and the public to indeed fully comply with SB-990, we will enter an entirely new phase.

We’ve essentially been going through a situation where holdovers from the prior administration have continued to try to sabotage the agreement. There is a new administration in Washington and that administration has not been notified at high levels, YET, of what those lower levels of people have been doing. We are almost at the point, and we will be at that point within two weeks, where the gloves come off and one has to go to the highest levels of these agencies and the White House through the many entities, among them the very powerful senators and congress people who have been involved with this matter for a decade or two. I don’t understand why those agencies would want to pick a fight with the chair of their oversight committees, in this particular case, a man who is not known to be shy about certain things vis-à-vis the rights and needs of the constituents. I don’t know why they would be silly enough to do that. But we are within ten days of that starting.

[SNIP]

NASA is still on the verge of trying to transfer that land and break the law…If within ten days there is not an agreement which is acceptable to the community, we will be entering a new phase.

[SNIP]

We came, many of us, to this meeting to find out what was in that consent decree and we don’t get to see it yet. There are negotiations that will continue to go on, apparently with no one representing you as part of those negotiations. We are at a point, where if in a couple weeks, there is not an acceptable agreement that involves strict compliance with 990, this will enter a phase that I don’t believe Boeing, DOE or NASA will like. I don’t want to go there. This is not going to be pleasant if we don’t get, in a very short time, an end to the resistance to this law and obstruction to it.

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  1. For now, the existing Consent Order is signed by all the parties and 9 of 11 RCRA reports are out for public review. I encourage everyone to weigh-in and use their voice on how these reports need to be done — which is done right. We still see many gaps in all of these reports, especially in the recently submitted reports for Group 2 and now we are reviewing the giant group 1a which is the Area 1 portion nearest the San Fernando Valley side. We need to make sure all the historical information is known so that the radiation soil survey that is underway by EPA can be as comprehensive as possible and so any/all chemical and radiation impacts are dealt with properly. I think we need a site-wide soil management, segregation and disposal, and transportation plan that addresses the important concerns the surrounding communities have about dust mitigation, wind conditions and avoiding the rainy season. But I think we can all agree we want clean-up and for that, the trucks HAVE to come down the hill. I think it’s important to voice these concerns so the process is safe and protective so we can finally clean-up the site so the next generations do not inherit this mess. When hot-spots are found during the characterization process, I think we want to get it out of there, but we need to do it right. Let’s talk about how to make sure it is done right, to SB990 standards as we have law behind us today.

  2. Joan Bien says:

    First, I was astonished that no reporters attended this meeting. One daily newspaper spilled a lot of ink a few weeks ago bragging about how they “owned” this story and that they were the public enlighteners of all things Rocketdyne. Another daily newspaper has also been following the story but they do seem to be getting bored with it.

    Understandable because sweet nothing has happened and the various officials and agency reps obviously feel no compunction about wasting the time of plain, old, ordinary citizens.

    Which begs the question, are they stalling until the entire generation of those with legitimate claims just die off, akin to the treatment of the Atomic Vets? It can’t be they are waiting for the contamination to magically disappear, could it? Fifty years later, the land remains unsurveyed by a non-involved party. What other conclusions can be reached by a sane person?

    Wait, I know the answer! According to an unnamed website, their reporter has revealed that nothing serious ever happened at the site. She even found 20, TWENTY, unnamed senior scientists who all created and ran the SRE in 1959 and who, until now, had been silent on the issue. Where on earth have they been hiding all this time? Wow, what a score for that website! Stop the presses! I’ll just bet that Boeing and others who sympathize with Boeing now feel vindicated. Everyone has been wasting their time for 30 years. Don’t we feel foolish. NOT.

    It sounds eerily like the disinformation propagated 60 years ago by McCarthy and HUAC. Too bad some former newspaper people feel they must resort to a campaign of disinformation.

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