Despite protests from Democrats and Republicans in Congress, the Department of Energy is moving forward with abolishing its Office of Environment, Safety and Health, just months before new health and safety rules are to take effect for more than 100,000 workers at Department of Energy sites across the nation . The Office will be merged with the Department's security office, headed by a career professional rather than an Assistant Secretary.
"This is the pendulum swinging back," said David Michaels, who headed the office as an assistant secretary of energy in the Clinton administration.According to a DOE statement,
Combining health, safety, security enforcement and independent oversight responsibilities into the Office of Health, Safety and Security creates one unified office that will result in improved coordination among important functions, including an integrated approach to managing risks involving safety and security considerations.
The DOE Office of Environment, Safety and Health is basically OSHA for the roughly 130,000 people who work for the department and its contractors. The contractors are doing highly hazardous work dismantling cleaning up the millions of gallons of radioactive and toxic liquid waste left over from the making of nuclear bombs at weapons plants across the country. The department was created in the 1980's as a result of reports of contamination and illnesses among the nation's "cold war veterans" who were exposed to nuclear materials and highly toxic chemicals and wastes.
In 2002, Congress passed a law giving the Office the authority to enforce health and safety standards against private contractors that have been hired by DOE to clean up the plants. The office also oversees health studies and medical screening programs for workers and surrounding communities exposed to ionizing radiation and other hazardous materials used in DOE operations. The office also conducts environmental impact statements related to agency activities.
Tom Carpenter of the Government Accountability Project in Seattle, said
the timing of the reorganization, just months before the new safety rules take
effect, was suspicious. "Isn't that amazing?" he said. "It looks like they
are doing an end run."
The Governors of New Mexico and Washington, three former Assistant Secretaries, the United Steelworkers union, the AFL-CIO's Building and Construction Trades Department, Congressmen Bart Stupak (D-MI), Ted Strickland (D-OH) and John Dingel (D-MI), and Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Harry Reid (D-NV), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jim Bunning (R-KY), and Edward Kennedy (D-MA) have written letters to Endergy Secretary Samuel Bodman opposing the changes. They fear that the health and safety functions of the office will be lost in a new office primarily concerned with security.
- Opposition Grows To DOE's Plan To Eliminate Worker Safety Office, June 28, 2006
- Department of Energy To Elminate Worker Protection Office, May 23, 2006
- Nuclear Veterans: "A Gross Breach Of Faith" February 26, 2006
- DOE Will Fine Contractors For Health & Safety Violations, February 6, 2006
- Hanford Workers Awarded $4.8 Million in Whistleblower Safety Case, September 3, 2005
- "I don't look to ever get anything but grief", October 3, 2004
- Radiation Exposures and Close Calls at Hanford, August 5, 2004
- NIOSH: Hanford Employees Vaporized, July 17, 2004
- DOE Investigation of Hanford Coverup: Exoneration or Whitewash? June 7, 2004
- DOE To Hanford Clean-up Workers: “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” April 12, 2004
- Resignations at DOE Follow Revelation of Failed Nuclear Worker Program, April 4, 2004
- More Hanford Problems: DOE, Contractors Can't Get Injury/Illness Story Straight, March 28, 2004
- NPR Story on Worker Safety and Health Problems at Hanford, Marcy 13, 2004
- Training, Safe Operating Procedures? Nah, Just Get The Job Done, February 26, 2004
- Scandal at Hanford: And Workers Pay The Price, February 26, 2004
- Silica Cover-Up at DOE Facility in Nevada, February 23, 2004
- DOE's Really Stupid Workplace Safety Policy, February 23, 2004DOE Backtracks on
- Contractor Safety Policy, February 24, 2004
- Workers At Risk (Still, Yet, Again) at Federal Nuclear Reservation, February 20, 2004
- Department of Energy Decides When It Comes To Safety, Contractors Know Best, February 1, 2004
- DOE to Sick Workers: Chill, October 19, 2003
- Hanford HazWaste Workers Worry About Their Health -- For Good Reason, August 14, 2003