Washington, D.C. – Today, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) questioned General Counsel nominee for the Department of Energy William Cooper regarding the Department’s ability to improve and maintain worker safety at Hanford and live up to the Tri-Party agreement.
Hanford is unlike any other environmental cleanup operation in this country. The site was the proving ground for nuclear production reactors and for developing the first plutonium extraction process. This has left a legacy of a complex mix of chemicals and radioactive materials that our best minds are still figuring out technological solutions to remediate.
“Representing the state with the largest radioactive cleanup in the nation, I am particularly interested in making sure the department’s next General Counsel is firmly committed to upholding the department’s legal obligations, both to cleaning up Hanford and to protecting the health and safety of workers who are cleaning it up,” said Senator Cantwell. “I can’t emphasize enough the importance of taking care of our cleanup and the workforce.”
Senator Cantwell asked Cooper if he would, “commit to fully consulting with the State of Washington, tribes, and public interest before making any kind of decision on termination on tank waste” and uphold the Tri-Party agreement.
Senator Cantwell played a key role in the events that led to the establishment of the Hanford Workforce Engagement Center which opened this May. “[The Center] is a collaborative effort between the Department of Energy, Hanford contractors, Unions, and since its opening in the spring it has proved to be very successful. Within the first month it helped able over 600 people moving through the process,” said Senator Cantwell during the hearing. Since opening operations in May the center has helped over 1500 individuals with their claims.
In March 2017, Senator Cantwell initiated an IG investigation into the handling of workers claims and has written several letters to the Department of Labor requesting they improve the handling of federal claims out of the Seattle based office.
In Fiscal Year 2018, Senator Cantwell successfully inserted appropriations report language directing the Department to establish a center to help workers in addressing occupational health issues and navigating the claims process.
“Every Energy Secretary has some idea about what they think is a faster way to clean up Hanford. But most of those have not been successful ideas. The point is, it costs a lot to clean up Hanford but you have to live up to the Tri-Party agreement to do that,” said Senator Cantwell.
Broadcast quality video of Senator Cantwell’s opening statement can be found here.
Broadcast quality video of Senator Cantwell’s questions can be found here.
Witness testimony will be available online immediately before the start of each hearing on the committee website.