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2/6/2003

Bush’s budget plans for Rocky Flats are released

The Associated Press

GOLDEN — The cleanup effort at the former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant would get about $665 million in fiscal 2004 under the president’s budget proposal.

The budget would be about the same as last year and matched what plant officials had requested, spokesman Patrick Etchart said.

Until December 1989, Rocky Flats made components for nuclear weapons, using such materials as plutonium, uranium and beryllium. A cleanup effort was launched in 1995, and officials have said it is nearly half done. The site is scheduled to be closed in 2006 and turned into a wildlife refuge.

The budget proposal was announced Monday, along with new of a Department of Energy reorganization that critics claim represents a dismissal of the importance of long-term stewardship. The federal fiscal year starts Oct. 1.

In the past, money for monitoring contaminated ground water, capped landfills and other long-term activities was funded through the Energy Department’s Office of Environmental Management, directed by Jessie Roberson, assistant secretary of energy and former DOE manager at Rocky Flats.

Those items now will be managed by a new Office of Legacy Management, said Michael Owen, the Energy Department manager orchestrating the transition.

“One of the primary differences is that legacy management, long-term stewardship, will now be brought up on separate footing ... and will have its own free standing budget line,” Owen said. “That makes it more defendable.”

The new office will be in charge of contamination left behind at sites like Rocky Flats. It also will oversee benefits and retraining for workers at sites that will be closed, he said.

Tom Marshall, a longtime Rocky Flats activist with the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, said he fears the reorganization reflects the agency’s lack of concern about possible long-term problems.

“The Environmental Management program is very clearly about speed,” Marshall said. “They don’t want to be bothered with the long-term problems that could persist at sites.”

Marshall also questioned whether the cleanup budget is large enough.