House editorial: Eyes on the ball

Give Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter credit. His statement about changes to the waste cleanup contracts at the Idaho National Laboratory was on point.

“In the near term, DOE needs to complete the work on the liquid waste, get all of the targeted waste out of the ground and then get caps installed,” Otter said. “The current contractors are making progress on these milestones, and we want to see that progress continue.”

The bureaucracy enabling the cleanup is changing — from two contracts to four. But the 1995 Settlement Agreement between Idaho and the federal government has not changed. Neither has the resolve of Idahoans determined to mitigate threats to the Snake River Aquifer.

Folks in Washington, D.C., should know Idahoans have not forgotten that in the 1950s the feds began disposing of waste in our backyard without permission, burying contaminated materials near the largest freshwater aquifer on the continent.

Those who were there, such as former Gov. Cecil Andrus, remind us about the broken promises and battles that led to the agreement. We thank them for it and will not forget their struggle.

But neither can we ignore the remarkable cleanup progress made in the past decade, or how the death of the national repository at Yucca Mountain will inevitably affect the Settlement Agreement.

We cannot, in our quest to see the terms of that deal fulfilled, forget that cleanup and the economic future of the lab are inexorably tied; that as the work continues to get done, policymakers at the federal, state and local levels must be actively seeking ways to expand the mission of an entity that produces $3.5 billion in annual economic activity for Idaho.

Three years ago, Otter approved a minor change to the agreement, allowing the state to import small quantities of commercial fuel. That tweak has so far resulted in two deals bringing in $25 million annually to the INL. More importantly, it did nothing to undermine the guts of the Settlement Agreement or harm the environment.

You have heard this from us before and will likely hear it again. The lab, following the clean it up and close it down panic of 2003, has done an admirable job reinventing itself. From staring into the abyss — a Bush Administration recommendation that the lab be shuttered to becoming the nation’s lead nuclear energy research laboratory — the past decade has seen important work conducted, despite thousands of jobs lost before and during the recession.

Continuing to build upon that momentum is vital, to the region, the state and a nation that wants to seriously address global warming. Growing the lab’s mission depends upon one thing: cleaning up the messes the feds left behind.

Whether that involves two contracts or four matters little. The impact on cleanup jobs isn’t the issue. The cleanup effort is not a jobs program. It’s about getting the job done.

DOE can dot I’s and cross T’s however it sees fit, so long as whoever gets hired understands what’s at stake and that we’ll be watching.

Corey Taule