(The Center Square) – The Washington state Department of Ecology announced they had reached a settlement in an ongoing case with the United States Department of Energy.
In an uncommon case of a State Department suing a Federal Department, this settlement stems from a disagreement regarding an Ecology determination back in 2019 stating that the Department of Energy was “restricting the state’s access to critical data.”
Ecology said on Sept. 14 that Energy was in breach of a tri-party agreement dating back to 1989 between the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Washington state Department of Ecology.
That agreement governed the cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Site.
The breach ultimately resulted in a $1 million fine being levied against Energy by Ecology in 2020.
“Without access to this data, we can’t effectively protect the land, air and water for residents in Eastern Washington and surrounding communities. We’ve attempted to negotiate this issue with the U.S. Department of Energy for years, only to find our access to information restricted even further,” said Ecology’s Acting Director Polly Zehm at the time the fine was levied.
“Both the determination and penalty were appealed to the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board in 2020. The Board issued an order affirming the determination in February 2022, and the penalty was reduced to $540,000 in a May 2022 final decision,” the news release announcing the settlement read.
Unfortunately, this was not the end of the nearly four-year-long disagreement. The Department of Energy appealed the decision.
That appeal resulted in a stay being placed on the case, and the two parties have been negotiating a settlement since May 2022.
“Our job is to protect the people and environment in Washington. In order to do our job, we need access to basic documents the U.S. Department of Energy is required to provide,” said Ecology Director Laura Watson. “We’re pleased to reach agreement with Energy on a solution that gets us what we need.”
That agreement resulted in a somewhat reduced settlement amount, with the Department of Energy investing $540,000 each in two environmental restoration projects at the Hanford Site, as well as putting in place the infrastructure to deal with Ecology’s data access needs per the tri-party agreement.
The Hanford Site, according to Ecology, “represents one of the most complex environmental cleanups in history.” Readers can learn more about that cleanup effort on Ecology’s Hanford website.