1994 CPEO Military List Archive

From: Lenny Siegel <lsiegel@igc.org>
Date: Thu, 13 Oct 1994 23:47:20 -0700 (PDT)
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: Re: Defense Environmental Budget
A Ditch in Time:
Setting Cleanup Priorities at Federal Facilities
by Lenny Siegel
September, 1994

 The long-term costs of identifying and remediating toxic,
radioactive, and explosive contamination at Federal facilities,
particularly at military bases and nuclear weapons production plants,
are staggering. Even under the best management, the price tag will
run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Policy-makers in
Washington view environmental restoration to be a budget-buster.
Rapidly escalating requirements, particularly at the Energy
Department, must be reconciled with limited annual appropriations.
In fact, some government officials have accepted public participation
in the oversight of Federal cleanup because they want community
representatives to take the heat for deciding where to reduce
environmental programs.

 Neighbors and workers of those Federal facilities, as well as
many officials charged with ensuring safe, complete, and timely
cleanup, are worried that polluting agencies will use the budget issue
as an excuse to avoid their legal and moral obligations to clean up
hazards created through decades of what at best may be considered
neglect. Not only would inadequate cleanup put the public at risk at
Federal facilities, but any lower standards established for Federal
facilities would be seized upon, under the guise of fairness, by
private polluters wishing to avoid their environmental obligations.
Any proposal to rank risks or priorities is viewed by many as a
mechanism to justify the ignoring of localized environmental threats.

 I believe it is possible to reconcile, to a great degree, these
seemingly conflicting concerns. There are, in fact, numerous ways
to save money in environmental restoration. There is a clear
consensus that innovative technologies must be applied to the full
range of restoration challenges. Proven technologies - presumptive
remedies - could be applied in a more standard way. There is a
widespread perception that large fractions of cleanup budgets,
particularly at DOE, are lost to waste or inefficiency. With proper
safeguards, both contracting and regulatory oversight could be

 Even if all those steps are taken, however, decision-makers
with their hands on the Federal purse strings are convinced that a
national priority-setting scheme must be established. For example,
the Senate Appropriations Committee declared in its recent Defense
Appropriations bill report, "A priority-based process for allocation
of budget resources will become increasingly necessary as DOD
seeks to balance calls for immediate restoration of all sites with
continuing declines in defense spending."

 The term priority-setting has at least two different meanings.
To some people it means an approach for deciding which sites to
address. To me, however, it means developing a systematic method
for deciding when to carry out specific activities. Most sites require
a series of activities, some of which must be done quickly, while
others, at the same site, may be delayed. Some activities - such as
the removal of underground storage tanks - may cover a number of
sites, while others - such as the elimination of pathways - are not
necessarily site-related.

 I propose that each agency develop or adapt an activity data-
base, or matrix, through which its own field staff and contractors,
regulatory agencies, and public representatives on advisory boards
would rate each proposed activity according to criteria now
commonly used, on a common sense basis, to determine priorities in
the field. These matrices would provide decision-makers with the
information they need to establish priorities, but I am reluctant to
seek a numerical formula for combining the criteria. I believe that
some agencies, such as the Energy Department, have a standard
activity reporting system. Others, such as the Defense Department,
have activity information in form of contract task orders but do not
centrally collect it.

 Each activity should be evaluated, by all stakeholders,
according to the following criteria:

1. Type of activity. In general, environmental restoration entails
three types of activities:

 a)identification and characterization of the problem

 b)protective action, such as the removal actions or pathway

 c)long-term remedial action, designed to eliminate

 Since it is difficult to compare activities with such different
objectives, the objective of each activity should be recognized.

2. Risk reduction. Activities should be judged by the degree to
which they reduce risk, not judged by the total risk that the site
poses. (Unfortunately, the only way to predict the risk reduction
value of identification and characterization activities is by averaging
the impact of similar past activity.) If possible, I would like to see
the delta (change) function applied to the three elements of DOD's
site evaluation primer. According to the DOD model, ecological risk,
as well as health risk, is included.

 a)To what degree does the activity reduce the quantity or
concentration of the hazard?

 b)To what degree does the activity reduce or eliminate
migration pathways?

 c)Does the remedy reduce (in a non-lethal way) the receptor

 3. Duration. How long will the activity take? Risk
reduction, as defined in #2 above, should be projected over time.
Will the activity remove the hazard quickly? How long will it take to
block the pathway?

4. Cost. In many situations, the value of an activity will be
based on the amount of risk reduction achieved per dollar. In other
cases, the absolute cost, relative to available budgets, will be a
decisive factor.

5. Reversibility. How much will the hazard addressed by the
activity spread during the activity? What if the activity is delayed? Is
migration irreversible? Will their be irreversible harm to people or
threatened species? A ditch in time saves nine!

6. New technologies. Does the potential for new environmental
technologies make it sensible to delay the activity until a substitute
can be deployed?

7. Economics. Particularly where facilities are closed or
closing, communities and their elected representatives place a high
premium on the economic impact of cleanup. For example,
Congress established separate accounts for base closure cleanup.
Economic issues include:

 a)Will the activity accelerate or improve property reuse
opportunities, including job creation and availability of low-cost

 b)Will the activity provide employment opportunities,
particularly for workers or community members impacted by facility

8. Social factors. Today social factors are best understood in
the context of environmental justice, but they are by no means
confined to that area of concern. Most of these issues are site-
related, not based on the particular activity. Nevertheless, the
existence of social concerns should increase the priority assigned to
most activities at a site or facility:

 a)Are the sites to be addressed by the activity located in an
area impacted by other environmental hazards?

 b)Is the affected population a victim of other forms of
social, environmental, economic, or cultural injustice?

 c)Does the hazard impact a substantial share of a
population's land or other cultural resources (fish, game, etc.)? For
Indian nations, this should be considered in the context of
sovereignty and treaty rights.

 The temporal dimension of priority-setting is particularly
important at high-risk sites, such as mixed-waste sites or munitions
impact ranges, where the remediation technology is far from
adequate. In many such situations, it makes sense to contain the risk
- or restrict access to the site - while new technologies are under
development. Nearby populations, however, are reluctant to accept
delays because there is no guarantee that sufficient resources will be
dedicated to the new technologies or that the responsible party will
apply the new technologies as soon as they are ready. So they may
insist on immediate action, even where it is unlikely to substantially
reduce risks, just to keep the program in place.

 Government agencies can address this problem in three

A. Trust. Through improved communication, respect for
community input, and overall program performance, they can
increase the degree to which the public trusts them.

B. Input on Technology Development. Non-Federal
stakeholders should be given a clear, effective, and continuing role
in the establishment of technology requirements and research
priorities. Only then can they be sure that new technologies are like
to address their problems - or if the new technologies do not
materialize, that it is not for lack of trying.

C. "Bonding." Through some type of legally binding
mechanism, it should be clear that the responsible agencies are
setting aside or planning for resource allocations so they can carry
out necessary activities when they are ready.

 Finally, I want to make a pitch for the inclusion of subjective
factors. In our political system, it is impossible to avoid them. Let
me give an example of a risk evaluation where I am perfectly
comfortable with an emotional response:

 Not long after the Polly Klass kidnapping, the news reported
that a man had attempted to grab a twelve-year old girl who was
bicycling home from soccer practice in Menlo Park, about ten miles
from my home. Even though that report was not confirmed, my 
wife and I agreed that our own eleven-year old daughter should not
cycle home alone from her soccer practice. I think that the risk of her
being injured in a collision while being driven home was greater
than the risk of her being accosted, but I can't imagine a parent
choosing the bicycle risk under those circumstances. I believe that
fear, as an emotional response to an uncertain risk, is a legitimate
factor in priority-setting.

 Lenny Siegel is the Director of the Pacific Studies Center in
Mountain View, California and Director of the California Economic
Recovery and Environmental Restoration Project (CAREER/PRO),
a project of San Francisco State University's Urban Institute.

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