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Washington, D.C.

The subcommittee met, pursuant to call, at 9:30 a.m., in room 2253, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Albert Gore, Jr. (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.

Mr. GORE. The subcommittee will come to order.

Under the Constitution, the executive branch has the responsibility to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." This phrase contains the glue that holds our Government together. Without the implicit trust of Congress in the ability of the Executive to make agreements and administer laws according to congressional intent, the separation of powers becomes meaningless. Even the oversight subcommittees of Congress must and do assume a general level of good-faith commitment by the Executive to carrying out its responsibilities.

That responsibility to faithfully execute the laws is particularly important when the society, through the Congress, is attempting to deal with sensitive problems around which only a tenuous consensus exists. Today, the subcommittee will examine a problem in which it seems clear that the executive branch fell short in its responsibilities, either through carelessness or because of overriding pressure to reach agreement with the State of New York on a nuclear waste problem that has bedeviled the country for years. On October 1, 1980, the President signed into law a bill to provide for the decontamination and decommissioning of the West Valley Nuclear Waste Site. The West Valley facility, near Buffalo, N.Y., was the only commercial nuclear fuel reprocessing plant to ever operate in the United States. It ceased operation in 1972, leaving some 600,000 gallons of high-level liquid waste in temporary storage.

Last year's legislation authorized a cooperative agreement between the Department of Energy and the State of New York to solidify and dispose of the waste in the best possible manner. The law and the legislative history represented a consensus on many difficult issues, including the proper roles of Federal and State government in financing the project, the balancing of safety and environmental considerations against the economic realities of our time, the best technologies to achieve the decontamination of the site, and, indeed, the delicate questions of whether nuclear waste sites can be entirely cleaned up.


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Public Law 96-368 must be carried out. Nuclear waste is a problem that our Nation must face, and must face now. For too many years we have allowed this problem to be put off into the uncertain future.

All of the technical evidence points to the conclusion that we presently have the capability to safely handle the wastes at West Valley. We must resolve the questions before us today so that this project can move forward.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. GORE. Thank you.

It is a pleasure for me to call on my colleague from Tennessee, who chairs the Energy Research and Production Subcommittee, which is involved with this matter. I recognize Mrs. Bouquard. Mrs. BOUQUARD. The Subcommittee on Energy Research and Production has been closely involved in passage of the West Valley Demonstration Project Act.

Our intent was to authorize a research development and demonstration program on the process for solidification of the liquid highlevel radioactive wastes at the West Valley site.

It is important to recognize that this committee at no time intended to authorize a remedial action program, although it was recognized as a necessary consequence to the conduct of the project that certain facilities would be decontaminated; so that, in effect, the site would be held harmless from the actions of the Department.

We are here today because the agreement that the Department reached with the State of New York to carry out the intent of the law seems to extend beyond the scope of that intent. Today we hope to clarify those ambiguities of the contract that have reportedly led to contradictory conclusions by the parties involved. Most prominent among these ambiguities is that associated with the scope of the decontamination and decommissioning duties of the Department of Energy.

Mr. Chairman, I won't go into all of the questions about the contract that have surfaced over the months since it was signed. The Department of Energy has adequately summed up many of these concerns in a letter recently sent to the Honorable Tom Bevill, chairman of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee.

Mr. Chairman, I ask unanimous consent that this letter be inserted at this point in the record so that these concerns are appropriately identified.

Mr. GORE. Without objection.

[The letter mentioned follows:]

The evidence now suggests that the Department of Energy may have mishandled a cooperative agreement that attempted to implement this statute, and, in the process, may have ignored the intent of Congress. The evidence also indicates that the Department of Energy continues to have problems in organizing to deal with major programs in a way that insures that the laws will be "faithfully executed." We will want to explore both the cooperative agreement as well as the DOE plans for executing that agreement. I want to emphasize that this inquiry has been undertaken with the full support of the Science and Technology Committee and with the intent to insure that Public Law 96-368 is, in fact, carried out. Many people undoubtedly have hidden agendas in the area of nuclear waste. Some would like to see the project delayed; others would like to see it moved forward at a pace that insures continuing problems like those that occurred in the first cooperative agreement.

Our job, as an oversight subcommittee, is to insure that the law is carried out in such a way to insure that it meets its goals in the most efficient and effective possible fashion. The subcommittee looks forward to working with the Department of Energy, and the relevant committees of the Congress, to forge an agreement that better represents the public interest.

I want to make one final thing clear before we begin. While the subcommittee will undoubtedly be asking the witnesses hard questions about the validity of their judgments, and their prudence in striking the November 3, 1980, cooperative agreement, no evidence exists that the Carter White House placed any undue pressure upon the Department of Energy to sign an agreement with New York State that was improper.

The evidence also does not indicate that the State of New York did anything other than sign the best deal it thought it could get. What now needs to be done is to dissect the agreement, identify those places that need work, and get on with the job of implementing the legislation.

I would like to call now on the ranking minority member, Mr. Walker.

Mr. WALKER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Chairman, today we are undertaking one of the most important tasks that the Constitution establishes for government. This is a classic example of the constitutional checks and balances system at work.

I am personally committed to seeing that the West Valley demonstration project is successfully carried out. And I am in true sympathy with the people of New York, since I, and my constituents, live in the shadow of Three Mile Island. The problems are indeed similar.

We have a severe problem that affects the lives of everyone in the area, and yet many seem to see either West Valley or Three Mile Island as local or State problems. They are not. They are problems that must be solved, and the results will be used nationwide in the future.

My concern today is to see that the law has been complied with. But far more importantly, my concern is to see that this project goes forward. We cannot, and must not, lose sight of the fact that

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