The Washington state Department of Ecology will regain direct access to critical federal data about the Hanford Site following a settlement agreement announced today with the U.S. Department of Energy.
This brings to conclusion the $1.065 million penalty Ecology issued to Energy in 2020 for restricting the state’s legally mandated direct access to important facility data, impairing Ecology’s ability to maintain regulatory oversight.
“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.”
The settlement comes more than four years after Energy first missed its Tri-Party Agreement deadline to meet Ecology’s information requirements, following numerous milestone extensions by Ecology.
Ecology had been able to successfully work with Energy on data access for more than 20 years prior to this missed milestone.
As part of the settlement, Energy is required to create a repository for Ecology to access Tri-Party Agreement-relevant documents, which are needed for compliance inspections. In addition, Energy will invest a reduced penalty of $540,000 in two environmental restoration projects at the Hanford Site.
The original 2020 penalty was preceded by a Director’s Determination issued by Ecology in December 2019, concluding Energy was in violation of data access requirements, after years of negotiations between the agencies.
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.
Energy appealed the Board’s decisions. A stay on the case was put in place, and negotiations have been taking place since.
The agencies will continue to work together, as specified in the settlement, to determine which records and data will be added to the repository to fulfill ongoing data requirements.
Energy is legally required to provide Ecology direct access to data as part of the binding Tri-Party Agreement signed by Ecology, Energy, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1989. This agreement governs cleanup of the Hanford Site.
Some of the required data details the extent of contamination in soil and groundwater, how hazardous waste is managed, the status of underground storage tanks, progress made in cleaning up contamination, and other data our compliance team needs for inspections.
The Hanford Site represents one of the most complex environmental cleanups in history. Learn more about Hanford on Ecology’s website.