Welcome back, Mr. President.
You are among friends here. But have a care. Even your most ardent supporters have some doubts about what your policies are doing locally.
You are a man who seems to appreciate plain speaking, so let's cut right to it: The dam where you stand today and others like it play just one part in the health of the Mid-Columbia.
Three years ago, you made a swing though this community to promise us the four lower Snake River dams would never come down on your watch.
It was a savvy political move that has proved also judicious.
Savvy because that pledge no doubt was one of the reasons you won Benton and Franklin counties 2-to-1 while losing the state as a whole.
Judicious because that pledge and your subsequent election brought sanity back to the discussion about how best to help struggling fish runs. In the years since, this region has seen more farmers and environmentalists working together than it did during the all-or-nothing fight over whether to breach the Snake River dams. And farming is close to half of our economy.
Now, we also need your attention to the other half of our economy a few miles northwest of where you are today. It is the Hanford Nuclear Reservation that helped arm this country against last century's risks to homeland security.
Your Department of Energy has not been as upfront about what it intends to do at Hanford as you have been about the dams.
We hope you put those fears to rest.
As it stands, the past 21Ú2 years have left plenty of room for doubt about your administration's intentions for cleaning up the nation's worst nuclear mess that sits in our back yard. That doubt lends credence to the charge you have faced elsewhere, that you are not interested in protecting the environment.
Our congressman, Doc Hastings of Pasco, tells us we should applaud your administration's strategy to speed up cleanup.
We do, in theory. If we can get the same job done faster and cheaper, we're all for it -- even if it means our own efforts to wean this community from reliance on those federal jobs also need to be expedited.
But it's the reality that concerns us. If doing cleanup faster means cutting corners, that will betray this community. While your Department of Energy seems at times to say all the right things, its actions don't always back up those words. And its recent silences also are sending the wrong message.
You now have visited this community just as many times since taking office as the man you appointed secretary of energy to oversee efforts to clean up Cold War defense sites like Hanford.
Spencer Abraham speaks volumes with his absence, but that's the least of our community's concerns. What troubles us more is the Department of Energy's spotty record on working with state and local interests on cleanup issues.
Here's but one example: As you today cheer the collaborative approach that salmon recovery is taking, Abraham is seeking to sidestep such collaboration on a key issue in nuclear cleanup.
A federal court told him he couldn't cut cleanup costs by reclassifying highly radioactive wastes into something less dangerous. Rather than working with the states where cleanup sites are located, Abraham has gone to Congress to try to rewrite federal law so he can do what he wants.
You would not have stood still for that heavy-handed approach when you were Texas governor. And you should not ask this state to do so now.
Your critics are off base when they ding you for coming here rather than an environmentalist stronghold to talk about salmon recovery. That discussion belongs here, among the people who can have the greatest effect on ensuring fish have enough water and that habitat is preserved and restored.
Likewise, your Department of Energy's conversations about cleanup belong here, so that they can include this community's experts and the state regulators versed in cleanup goals.
To govern otherwise is to continue to leave in doubt whether this administration is serious about cleaning up nuclear wastes the right way.
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