Morning Briefing - June 20, 2018
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June 20, 2018

Energy Department Finds No Conflict of Interest on Portsmouth Advisory Panel

By ExchangeMonitor

The Energy Department found no evidence its conflicts of interest rules were violated when the Portsmouth Site Specific Advisory Board (SSAB) voted May 10 whether to request the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, and DOE, reopen the 2015 record of decision for an on-site waste disposal cell at the cleanup site.

Advisory panel member Dennis Foreman, a vocal opponent of the planned $900 million disposal facility at Portsmouth, said he was informed of the finding in a Monday email from David Borak, the designated federal officer for local advisory boards to cleanup sites overseen by DOE’s Office of Environmental Management.

The ROD paves the way for the disposal of more than2 million cubic yards of waste produced by the decontamination and decommissioning of the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

Foreman has said three board members who voted against reopening the case have employment or family ties to the Portsmouth Site. The vote fell short of the two-thirds majority off the 18-member board needed to ask DOE and the Ohio EPA to reopen their consideration of the disposal cell.

The email, which Foreman shared with Weapons Complex Morning Briefing, did not detail the rationale for DOE’s conclusion. As a matter of policy, the agency asks that advisory board “members recuse themselves from votes related to real or perceived conflicts of interest, act impartially, and avoid the appearance of impropriety,” Borak wrote.

“In this case, the Portsmouth SSAB (Ports SSAB) draft recommendation 18-02 requests that DOE consider opening a Record of Decision and offering a second public comment period,” Borak said. “While I realize there are very strong feelings about this recommendation, in consultation with DOE Office of General [Counsel], we have determined that a recommendation to reopen public comment does not violate the conflicts of interest statutes or regulations for Ports SSAB members.”

Speaking by telephone Tuesday, Foreman said he considers DOE’s response inadequate: “You take over a month to send me a blanket statement – and you repeat your policy back to me.” He vowed to pursue the matter further, although he’s not sure what appeal options are open to him.

Local advisory panel members at DOE sites are not bound by the same ethics standards as federal employees. However, a DOE procedures manual suggests they refrain from voting on issues that might benefit them, their family, or employees.