Natural Resource Damages at DOE

RCED-96-206R: Published: Aug 16, 1996. Publicly Released: Sep 17, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Energy's (DOE) potential liability concerning its cleanup of natural resource damages at its nuclear weapons sites, focusing on: (1) the estimated amount of DOE liability; (2) whether differences exist between GAO and Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) liability estimates; and (3) factors that could affect these estimates. GAO noted that: (1) its estimate of DOE potential liability ranges from $2.3 billion to $20.5 billion; (2) the CEQ estimate of DOE potential liability ranges from $159 million to $611 million; (3) two CEQ calculation errors and differing damage assumptions were the main reasons that CEQ and GAO estimates varied; (4) a number of factors could affect future natural resource damage estimates; (5) the key assumptions underlying both liability estimates relate to past experience with damages at private sites, the relationship between damage settlements and cleanup costs, the type of remediation needed, and the estimated problems that may be encountered during remediation; and (6) various unresolved legal issues, including federal, state and Indian ownership and trustee rights, legal exemptions for cleanup areas, and damage limitations, will affect DOE future damage liability.

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