Landmark Victory in Lawsuit Against DOE



To settle a lawsuit brought by 39 environmental and peace groups, including the Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy, the US Department of Energy (DOE) has signed a landmark agreement that will bolster public oversight of  its efforts to address severe contamination problems in the nuclear weapons complex. Approved on December 14, 1998 by US District Court Judge Stanley Sporkin in Washington, DC, the settlement of NRDC v. Peņa, No. 970936, ends nine years of on-and-off litigation handled by the Natural Resources Defense Council, with the DC firm Meyer & Glitzenstein serving as litigation counsel in the recent phase.

The innovative settlement reflects the plaintiffs' determination to promote transparency and public participation in the management of radioactive wastes, as well as the openness of some elements within DOE to such an approach - coupled with the fact that DOE faced an imminent contempt of court hearing for not complying with a previous agreement in the case! (See "Motion Seeks Imprisonment of DOE Secretary", Bombs Away! (hardcopy), Spring 1998.) In depositions taken by plaintiffs, former Energy Secretary James Watkins and other former senior DOE officials strongly backed plaintiffs' claims. The settlement mandates:

  • Creation of a publicly accessible, interactive computer database including details about waste and contaminated facilities, with public participation in the creation of the database
  • Establishment of a $6.25 million Citizens' Monitoring and Technical Assessment Fund for non-profit groups and tribes to obtain technical assistance in monitoring DOE's environmental activities and impacts
  • Completion of an environmental analysis, with public input, of plans for "long-term stewardship" at contaminated DOE sites

The computer database is expected to be available through the Internet by early 2000. Details regarding plans for the database, including the results of a "stakeholder" forum held in June 1999 pursuant to the settlement, visit www.em.doe.gov/settlement

RESOLVE, Inc., a DC-based non-profit dispute resolution organization, has been selected as the administrator of the monitoring fund. An advisory board is now being established which will support an approach to granting money based on commitments to ecological values, a community-based approach to science, and environmental justice. It is expected that the application process will be opened this fall, with the first awards to be made in early 2000. For more information, see above-noted website, or contact Bruce Stedman at RESOLVE, 202-965-217, bstedman@resolve.org


 

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