DOE hides grant hoping Senator Barbara Boxer won’t find out in scheme to save millions by funding the SSFL CAG, a group that lobbies to leave SSFL’s nuclear and chemical contamination un-remediated
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has secretly granted $34,100, with an option for $68,200 more, to a Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL or Rocketdyne) astroturf group dedicated to stopping the cleanup to background agreement DOE signed with the state in 2010, EnviroReporter.com has learned.
“DOE will be coming out with their quarterly report probably in two to three weeks and they will have a list of grants on the last page,” said Alec Uzemeck of the SSFL “community advisory group” (CAG) August 17, 2016. “DOE is the one that made the grant for us. They are one who supplied the money. So, the question’s been answered.”
DOE not only gave thousands to a rump group of cleanup opponents, it told them to keep it to themselves lest longtime SSFL cleanup champion Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) find out about it before her term in office ends in January 2017.
“Why is it anonymous at this point?” Uzemeck said of the grant a year earlier, at a CAG meeting August 19, 2015. “Because everything we do is politically charged. We have people out there who make phone calls. And if you’re the executive of a corporation and you get a call from Barbara Boxer, I’m quite sure that that’s going to have an impact on it. But, we don’t want that. We wanna have the money in hand when we announce who the donors are.”
The minutes of the meeting made clear that DOE wanted its identity as the CAG’s donor so secret that it was known only to CAG leaders, something that didn’t sit well with one of the CAG members. “Alec reported that the SSFL CAG Foundation will be an entity separate from the CAG and will have as directors: Ron Ziman, Alec Uzemeck, John Luker, Tom Nachtrab & Brian Sujada,” the minutes read. “This action is in response to the gift from a donor who wishes to remain anonymous. A 501C3 nonprofit organization has been established. The directors will control the funds. As a result of the fact that the donor is anonymous, Elizabeth Harris has resigned from the CAG as she has a grant that could be jeopardized.”
Bonnie Klea, aka The Atomic Avenger and tireless advocate for DOE’s nuclear workers gaining just compensation for their radiation injuries, was surprised to hear that DOE was the source of the funds. “I originally thought the money came from Boeing because they lobby for them but I guess helping DOE helps Boeing,” Klea told EnviroReporter.com August 31. “Giving the CAG money is an obvious betrayal of the majority of the Valley residents. At the CAG meetings the few members left do a lot of laughing about the cancer issues and here I am a cancer survivor and I help all the workers file their cancer claims. It is a useless and ineffective group.”
Now why would DOE drop $34,100 on a group comprised of SSFL’s staunchest cleanup opponents, including one leading hikes through polluted SSFL property, and not want Boxer to know about it? Perhaps it’s because she would see through the ruse and know DOE was funding a group opposed to DOE’s cleanup of the its 270-acre part of the 2,850-acre SSFL thereby saving millions. The 23-year-serving Senator will know more soon enough. “We are investigating this and are committed to a full cleanup,” a senior official in Boxer’s office told EnviroReporter.com August 31.
The revelation that the CAG is on DOE’s teat secretly siphoning federal funds to subvert a cleanup that effects millions of people, including those in the dozens of cities along the Los Angeles River which drains most of DOE’s lab, has outraged the SSFL community. Even without the media onslaught of proven allegations of polluter and regulator collusion at the site, the effort to finance a phony citizens group advocating little remediation has not fooled the Rocketdyne Cleanup Coalition (RCC).
In an August 31 press release, RCC co-founder Marie Mason, who has fought for nearly three decades to get SSFL cleaned up, said, “I find it more than shocking that the DOE would fund this group and ask to conceal they are the funding source and especially to not have Senator Boxer find out. I am more than disgusted and filled with sadness. DOE and DTSC are part of the problem with too many close ties to the polluters and total disregard for the communities they are supposed to protect.”
Not only has DOE kept its cash for cleanup saboteurs scheme secret from the Sen. Boxer, it probably hasn’t explained to her how it could commit a possible $102,000 to the astroturf CAG while simultaneously slashing $300,000 that it had committed to an independently administered community fund.
The RCC press release states, “Community members are also deeply troubled that DOE funded the CAG during the same month that it broke its commitment and revoked funding for the final year of a five-year commitment to the New Mexico Community Foundation (NMCF)-administered Community Involvement Fund (CIF), which funds independent groups in impacted communities near contaminated DOE sites throughout the country. Reneging on its contract and failing to disperse a final $300,000 payment to NMCF caused over a dozen community groups to lose key funding.”
The coalition states that the CIF was established specifically so that there would be an independent mechanism to ensure that DOE would not do what it has done – fund a front group to lobby on DOE’s behalf to get out of its cleanup obligations.
Meanwhile, the Department of Energy claims what it has done was perfectly legal. In an August 30 email, a DOE spokesperson told EnviroReporter.com:
“The Department of Energy is aware of the statements being made regarding grant funding that was provided to the state-authorized Community Advisory Group (CAG) for the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL). This grant was provided in August 2015 as a three-year renewable grant, with first year funding of $34,100, and is being administered in accordance with all federal laws, including those which prohibit the use of funds for lobbying.
“According to the California Community Advisory Group handbook, ‘A Community Advisory Group’s (CAG) purpose is to provide a public forum for stakeholders to discuss issues and concerns relating to environmental projects under the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal EPA), Department of Toxic Substances Control’s (DTSC) direct oversight.’ The SSFL CAG specifically interacts with the DTSC regarding SSFL cleanup
“Given the interest in this particular grant, the Department has proactively begun reviewing the document for release.”
The statement raises more questions than it answers. The CAG repeatedly emphasized that its non-profit arm, the SSFL CAG Foundation, was a “separate entity” from the DTSC sanctioned CAG. Yet the DOE statement heavily relies on the CAG’s DTSC sanction as justifying its sizeable grant. So then, what exactly are the grant funds for? Why does a government grant need review prior to being released to the public who paid for it? Why did DOE request that the grant be kept secret for a full year?
DOE says that federal law prevents the use of funds for lobbying, yet Uzemeck stressed that the funding had “no strings.” The CAG makes no secret of its lobbying against full cleanup activities. In fact, the top agenda item from the August meeting in which it revealed DOE was its funder is “political meetings.”
EnviroReporter.com exposed the CAG as an “astroturf” group fronting for the polluting parties at SSFL in 2012’s Operation Astroturf, included in a five-part investigation Boeing’s Meltdown Makeover, that revealed Boeing’s covert plan to greenwash the contamination at SSFL by using “third party allies” who could advocate for lax open space cleanup standards and help it “blunt allegations of greenwashing.” These third party allies include CAG member Brian Sujata, a former Boeing project manager for SSFL who now participates as a community member. CAG member Abe Weitzberg worked at SSFL and is still a contractor to the DOE. And Alec Uzemeck worked at North American Aviation, Boeing’s predecessor.
With this composition it should be no surprise that the CAG has openly opposed comprehensive cleanup of SSFL and supported hikes and tours through the lab’s still-contaminated Southern Buffer Zone (SBZ) and nuclear Area IV where massive amounts of radiation and chemicals remain. The CAG continually spreads false and misleading information, such as this 2014 flyer that reads, “Why the AOC Cleanup at SSFL is Bad for Our Community.” Claiming that the SSFL cleanup will be more harmful than exposure to its contamination is part of the CAG’s dubious disinformation campaign, covered by EnviroReporter.com in 2014’s, Truth or Scare?
Area IV has been operated by DOE which is responsible for its cleanup which has already cost hundreds of millions thanks to three partial nuclear reactor meltdowns and decades of dumping, spilling and burning highly radioactive waste in an open burn pit, first exposed by this reporter in the June 1998 Los Angeles magazine cover story A Nuclear Nightmare in Our Backyard.
A $41.5 million EPA study of Area IV released in 2012 showed vast swaths of land still radiating deadly radionuclides like cesium-137, strontium-90 and plutonium 239/240 at extremely high levels. As EnviroReporter.com exposed in Radiation Readings Soar at Rocketdyne March 6, 2012, one soil sample “was laced with cesium-137 which clocked in at 9,328 times its background,” which shows how hot DOE’s leased property still is.
The rump CAG group’s primary focus has been destroying the Agreements on Consent (AOCs) struck between the state EPA’s Department of Toxic Substances (DTSC) and DOE and NASA in 2010. Both pledged to remediate their areas of SSFL to background levels of radioactivity and chemicals. DOE has since grumbled that it doesn’t have the money to fully clean up the huge amounts of goo they’ve fouled the lab with yet repeatedly reaffirms its commitment to its AOC.
At a February 2014 meeting of the SSFL Work Group (which was funded by CIF, surely another reason DOE wanted to kill the funding because of its call for full cleanup), DOE SSFL Project Director John Jones was put on the spot regarding the agency’s commitment to the AOC. He said, “Yes, things happened. Yes, they were unfortunate, and we’ve made a commitment to clean it up…Is DOE committed to the AOC? Yes.”
Of course if that were true, DOE would not be bankrolling the CAG to help it break out of the agreement, an astonishing conspiracy to complete the greenwashing of Area IV by funding a group fighting its own cleanup. Far from protecting the environment and the people and creatures living in it, the DOE has spun out of control trying to ruin a cleanup while hiding behind a CAG that wants to declare the place a park in a fait accompli.
Park cheerleader John Luker, who is also a CAG member and director of the SSFL CAG Foundation into which DOE shoveled the money, bragged during a long presentation at the August 19 CAG meeting that he had been lobbying at least two politicians about the SSFL cleanup. According to Luker, one of his lobbying targets was Rocketdyne cleanup stalwart Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D-CA) who represents the 26th District that borders SSFL.
“Anyway I insisted on a personal meeting with Julia Brownley because in the past I’ve talked to her aides and it’s been like a brick wall, the message has not been getting transmitted,” Luker told the small CAG gathering that was short of a quorum. “Anyway, I asked her point blank ‘has anyone trying to influence the legislation?’ And she goes ‘Oh, uh, what do you mean?’ And I go ‘Well is anybody trying to like influence National Park Service into, say, not consult on this project?’ ‘Oh yeah well uh well yeah I guess that’s a really good concern’ and they [sic] sort of change the subject and went around to something else. Now that would be called equivocation. That means you’re not answering the question. Answer the question with another question. Okay, how much of that do we get and it is a logical fallacy. Now this is really interesting. I am not a professor.”
DOE’s grantee went on for an interminable and oft-time surreal 70 minutes, barking at anyone who dared interrupt him. It went from weird to worse, now courtesy of the American taxpayer via the DOE. “In any case, I talked to Kamara [Sams, Boeing representative] earlier yesterday and they’re going to publish a map that shows where contamination is in the Southern Buffer Zone and what levels so people can see what they’re walking through,” Luker said without a trace of irony.
Painting SSFL as a recreational wonderland before it is even remediated is part and parcel of the greenwashing campaign for which Luker and the CAG are being so richly rewarded.
EnviroReporter.com’s July 13 Critics question safety of Boeing’s Santa Susana Field Lab hikes exposed the deluge of feel-good fictions being rained upon an unsuspecting populace, including children. Luker’s say-anything-mean-nothing Trumpian hucksterism is bewildering even to the seasoned CAG observer.
Oft times appearing disturbed to this reporter who listened to the August 17 CAG meeting via a cell phone set on a chair by Bonnie Klea, Luker would periodically shout at the phone assuming that this reporter was on it, calling me “Mikey” at one point amidst rants detailing his lobbying efforts which have included State Senator Fran Pavley (D-District 27).
“Did you get enough?” Luker bellowed into the cell phone. “Yeah, DID YOU GET ENOUGH? What do you think, Bonnie? Michael you got enough to trash me again?”
True to form, though, the truth inevitably tumbles from one of DOE’s new grant recipients including Luker himself. By the end of the meeting, he became more introspective speaking to no one in particular.
“I find myself falling into these fallacies and it’s really easy to,” Luker said quietly. “It’s really easy to attack [this reporter] instead of the data and that’s one of the big problems I have with this stuff. You know it’s like I pretty much know what the guy on the other end of the phone is going to write.”
This reporter will write what Boeing, DOE and their CAG minions say and do. There’s no need to embellish dangerous buffoonery when the quotes tumbling from loose lips are so pungent and provocative.
But that’s what DOE is paying for, and so the American taxpayer is footing the bill to help DOE’s CAG gut its own cleanup, exposing future generations to the astronomical amounts of radiation and chemicals in the soil, water and air vapors.