Waste Cleanup:

Status and Implications of DOE's Compliance Agreements

GAO-02-567: Published: May 30, 2002. Publicly Released: Jul 19, 2002.

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Gary L. Jones
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The Department of Energy (DOE) spends between $6 billion and $7 billion annually to store, clean up, and monitor nuclear and hazardous waste at its sites. Various federal and state agencies with jurisdiction over environmental and health issues related to the cleanup are therefore involved in regulating and overseeing DOE's activities. Much of the cleanup activity has been implemented under compliance agreements between the DOE and these agencies. There are three types of compliance agreements governing DOE's sites: (1) legal requirements that address the cleanup of federal sites on the National Priorities List of the nation's most serious hazardous waste sites or that address treatment and storage of mixed hazardous and radioactive waste at DOE facilities; (2) court-ordered agreements resulting from lawsuits initiated primarily by states; and (3) other agreements, such as state administrative orders enforcing state hazardous waste management laws, that do not fall into the first two categories. Through the end of fiscal year 2001, DOE had completed 4,500 milestones, although for several reasons, the number of milestones is not a good indication of cleanup progress. Many of the milestones are administrative in nature, such as issuing a report. Also, some agreements allow for adding more milestones as time goes on, and because the total number of milestones associated with those agreements is not yet known, progress is difficult to determine. Finally, many of the milestones not yet due involve some of the most complex and costly cleanup work to be undertaken. The cost of complying with these agreements is not specifically identified in the DOE budget. Individual DOE sites include the cost of the compliance when preparing their initial budget requests, but as DOE headquarters officials adjust individual site estimates to reflect national priorities and to reconcile various competing demands, the final budget does not identify what portion of the request reflects compliance requirements. However, compliance agreements are site-specific and are not intended to provide a mechanism for DOE to use in prioritizing risks among various sites.

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