Members of a taxpayer-funded citizens' group set up to monitor developments at the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant say a second public watchdog group has become a mouthpiece for the government.
The accusations come in the wake of three resignations this summer at the five-year-old Rocky Flats Cleanup Commission, a group of scientists and engineers monitoring plant activities under a small grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Two of the three people who left the Cleanup Commission then joined the larger and better-funded Rocky Flats Citizens Advisory Board--in the process bringing to the surface a simmering rivalry between the two groups.
"They're blowing a lot of smoke and not doing much of anything," Cleanup Commission treasurer Jim Stone says of the Citizens Advisory Board, which began meeting a year ago. He accuses the commission's former president and vice president of "working to sabotage the group for the last two years" by telling the EPA that the commission planned to dissolve when CAB came on line.
Stone says the larger group's watchdog role has been compromised by its source of funding: the federal Department of Energy, which oversees Rocky Flats. DOE channels the advisory board's $355,000 yearly operating expenses through the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. "They [DOE] have too much political influence on their [CAB's] decisions," says Stone, a former Rocky Flats engineer who made headlines several years ago when he blew the whistle on accumulations of plutonium in the plant's ductwork.
Stone's group, meanwhile, has closed its office after using up its latest EPA allocation of $25,000. Stung by the resignations of president Harry Posey, vice president Joe Tempel and technical assistant Ken Korkia in June and July, the group, known for its blunt criticism of operations at Rocky Flats, is now using Stone's home office as its headquarters while reapplying for funding from the EPA.
Eugene DeMayo, vice chairman of the Citizens Advisory Board, denies Stone's claims that CAB's work is slanted in DOE's direction. DeMayo, who does double duty as a boardmember of the Cleanup Commission, says he sees a role for each group. "The commission fills the role of technical review and critical analysis of Rocky Flats issues," he says. "CAB's job is to advise DOE and represent the whole community."
And former Cleanup Commission vice president Joe Tempel characterizes Stone's claim that he and Harry Posey were out to sabotage the group as a reaction worthy of filmmaker Oliver Stone. "There was never any subterfuge or any conspiracy," says Tempel. Cleanup Commission members had discussed the possibility of joining CAB, but "it was never really resolved," he adds.
Tempel says he moved over to CAB in part because he believes the two groups are performing similar functions and would be better off merging. "They're each charged with essentially the same things: to watchdog Rocky Flats and get the public involved in the process of cleaning up the plant," says Tempel. "That's another reason I thought they should fold into CAB."
Tempel has since resigned from CAB as well; he says that after spending five years keeping tabs on Rocky Flats, he was "ready to get on with other things."
Harry Posey, who resigned from the Cleanup Commission citing time constraints due to his work as a geochemist for the state, says the approaches of the Cleanup Commission and the Citizens Advisory Board "are as different as night and day. At the commission they tend to be confrontational," Posey says. "The Citizens Advisory Board tries to be cooperative in working with various interest groups. They collect information, assimilate it and attempt to arrive at a position that speaks for the community. That's probably a more effective approach."
While some environmentalists have criticized CAB for moving too slowly, Eugene DeMayo argues that the group's deliberate pace comes from the diversity of its 22-member board, which he sees as its strength. "We have right-wing people who work at the plant, we have radical environmentalists, and we have everybody in between," says DeMayo. "We don't act as critically or quickly as the Cleanup Commission, but we have more influence, I think, because we're seen by the government agencies as speaking for the community."
But Greg Marsh, who replaced Posey as president of the Cleanup Commission, says the Citizens Advisory Board is "primarily a public-relations functionary on behalf of DOE and the plant. DOE and [plant operator] EG&G are still disseminating disinformation, and CAB repeats it," he says. CAB may have more money, adds Marsh, but "all that shows is that the local chamber-of-commerce types and their pom-pom girls are still influencing decisions regarding Rocky Flats."
CAB was created in August 1993 with the blessings of both the state and DOE to act as the official vehicle for public participation in the plant's cleanup. A committee of officials from the EPA and the state health department chose the initial six members of the board, who then selected the remaining 23. (Six seats are currently vacant.)
Paula Elofson-Gardine, executive director of Denver's small but outspoken Environmental Information Network, says she believes the government wants to use CAB to sidetrack activists into a bureaucratic cul-de-sac. "They're keeping people busy with committee work and administrative tatting circles," she says.
Ken Korkia, who worked for four years as the Cleanup Commission's technical assistant before joining CAB last summer, notes that his new organization's staff "has only been together since June," while the board has been forced to "spend a lot of time organizing, writing bylaws and deciding priorities." Korkia says he made the shift because he believed the Cleanup Commission's comparatively skimpy budget was making it difficult to get things done. "To me, it was a matter of job security," he says. "I wanted to continue working on Rocky Flats issues, and the Cleanup Commission was running out of money."
The Commission must reapply for another grant from EPA this fall. "I can't say whether they'll get their money or not," says Robin Coursen of EPA's Denver office. "That gets decided in Washington."
And Stone says he'd rather deal with budget woes than move over to CAB. "We don't want to be associated with a government entity that might want to control us," says the engineer. "We want to be entirely independent.
"Groups come and go, but the problems at Rocky Flats are still there," adds Stone. "That's why we're still here.
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