U.S. Energy Official in Charge of Nuclear Waste Cleanup Resignsby H. Josef Hebert, Associated Press
Environmental News Network, June 17, 2004
WASHINGTON -- Assistant Energy Secretary Jessie Roberson, who headed the environmental cleanup program at the department's nuclear weapons sites, has resigned, citing a desire to spend more time with her family.
Roberson has been at the center of an aggressive plan by Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham to speed up the massive environmental cleanup the government faces from waste left over from years of nuclear bomb making.
The accelerated cleanup agenda, crafted by Roberson, has been criticized by some state officials and environmentalists as an attempt by the Energy Department to scale back cleanup standards and saddle states with more of the highly radioactive waste.
Energy Department spokesman Joe Davis said Tuesday that Roberson's departure would be effective July 15.
"She wanted to spend more time with her family," said Davis. "She wanted to move on. She's done a great job."
Davis said that Abraham told Roberson that in three years at the job she had "fundamentally changed the management" of the waste cleanup effort. Roberson came to the post after working for the Energy Department's office overseeing the cleanup of the Rocky Flats nuclear site in Colorado.
The resignation is the third of a senior Energy Department official closely involved in nuclear waste cleanup or environmental management in just over two months.
Undersecretary Robert Card, the department's No. 3 official who was closely involved in nuclear waste issues, and Assistant Secretary Beverly Cook, who reported to Card and was in charge of environmental and health management at nuclear complex sites, resigned in early April after tangling with members of Congress over a worker health issue. They, too, cited a desire to spend more time with family.
Davis said "it would be wrong to draw any conclusion" that Roberson's resignation was related to those departures or that her decision to leave the department involved an issue of policy.
However, Roberson has been criticized by some lawmakers for threatening to withhold as much as $350 million in nuclear waste cleanup funds unless states with tanks of high-level radioactive waste agree to a reclassification of the waste so it would not have to be transported to Nevada for disposal.
Senators and other officials from Washington, where many of the waste tanks are located, accused the department of trying to "blackmail" the states into agreeing to the cleanup changes. Tank waste also is located at facilities in Idaho and South Carolina.
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