Savannah River Site board favors service projects over fines

Savannah River Site’s Citizens Advisory Board on Tuesday asked the U.S. Energy Department to consider enforcing environmental-service projects in lieu of civil fines and penalties for nuclear-waste cleanup efforts that fail to meet federally mandated deadlines.


In an 18-2 vote, the board approved a recommendation at its monthly meeting that supported the federal agency pursuing “supplemental environmental projects” in lieu of collecting fines and penalties.

The community-service projects should be related to the violation as determined by local regulators and enforced through settlements consistent with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency policy and America’s Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, according to the board.

It must also require stakeholder and public engagement, according to the resolution.

“It is the intent of the (board) to ensure that DOE (Environmental Management) funds programmed and allocated for the cleanup and mitigation of legacy-waste disposal at sites are used for those purposes and for the benefit of the citizens of the affected areas,” CAB said in a statement summarizing its recommendation.

The recommendation comes the same month that South Carolina officials agreed to give SRS a six-week pass on citations and fines for failing to meet construction deadlines for a $2.3 billion facility being built to accelerate the cleanup of Cold War nuclear waste.

In early November, South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control announced it would refrain from enforcing civil penalties through Dec. 18 for the site’s Salt Waste Processing Facility while discussions continue to establish new treatment capacities, schedules and funding sources.

The facility, which failed to meet “startup milestones” set for completion on Oct. 31, will process about 90 percent of the 37 million gallons of high-level radioactive waste currently stored in 44 underground tanks at SRS.

The state could still impose millions in penalties, but CAB said in its resolution that it feels payment of those fines has the effect to further hinder the ability of environmental management sites to “successfully meet mandated and legally binding cleanup goals.”

“In most cases, states have the option to use the funds collected on fines for work unrelated to the issues that led to the fine or for the direct benefit of residents of the affected area,” the board said of its main concern with civil fines and penalties.

It said a more effective use of funds would be to use the money collected from fines to fund environmental service projects that a violator voluntarily agrees to undertake, as allowed by EPA, and most state regulatory agencies.

The board said there are seven common categories of projects that can be acceptable supplemental environmental projects. They include public health, pollution prevention, renewable energy, and environmental protection, restoration, compliance and assessments and audits.

“The project should benefit the community or environment near the impacted site while providing educational opportunities with contractors and public institutions of higher education,” the board said.

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