Senator Murkowsky Question's Garamendi's Motives

(Senate - October 21, 1997)

[Page: S10907]

Mr. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, it is often useful to compare the public statements of Government officials with their private statements. Such a comparison can say a great deal about an official's true motives, not to mention their character. Last week, in response to a question I posed for the public record, the Department of the Interior provided me with a copy of a memo written by Deputy Secretary of the Interior John Garamendi to his boss, Secretary Bruce Babbitt. This memorandum was dated February 21, 1996, and it concerns the Ward Valley low-level waste disposal issue.

For those who do not know, Ward Valley is the site of a low-level radioactive waste facility licensed by the State of California under the Federal Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act. The site sits on the Bureau of Land Management land in a remote and sparsely populated area of the Mojave Desert. But the Department of the Interior reversed an earlier decision to sell the land to California, and has insisted on study after study to achieve endless delays.

Meanwhile, low-level radioactive waste is piling up at hundreds of urban locations all across California. It is stored in basements, stored in parking lots, stored in trailers, stored in warehouses, and temporary shelters. It is on college campuses, it is in residential neighborhoods, it is in hospitals--sites that were not designed for permanent storage. As long as the waste in these temporary locations in populated areas is where it is, it is subject to accidental radioactive release from, fire, earthquakes, and floods.

Governor Wilson is understandably concerned about the health and safety of Californians. That is his job. He is frustrated by the delays California has faced in trying to get this facility open, and so am I.

I am further frustrated by the fact that the President's nominee to be the Deputy Secretary of the Interior, Mr. John Garamendi, appeared before our committee, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, on July 27, 1995, and testified under oath that Ward Valley and the issue should and would be quickly resolved. Mind you, this was July, 1995.

It may interest my colleagues to know that Ward Valley was scrutinized by two--not one, but two--environmental impact statements under NEPA, and two biological opinions under the Endangered Species Act. Although all these environmental reviews have been favorable to the Ward Valley facility, the Secretary of the Interior continues to opt for further studies rather than just transferring the land to California.

In 1994, having seemingly exhausted the studies available to delay the process under NEPA and the Endangered Species Act, the Secretary turned to the National Academy of Sciences and asked for yet another study. But in May 1995 the National Academy of Sciences study was complete, and again it was favorable to the Ward Valley site.

Finally, it appeared that Secretary Babbitt had little choice but to transfer the land, and announced his intention to do so in May 1995. Environmentalists bitterly complained. Greenpeace even picketed the Secretary. Movie stars and pop singers rallied against the facility. It did not matter what the science said. The facts didn't seem to matter. It was simply good politics in California to oppose a radioactive waste site and I guess the Secretary did not like the unfavorable press he was getting at the time.

Indeed, the politics of Ward Valley seems to loom large in another memorandum that we have uncovered, going back to 1993. I have a memorandum to the Secretary from October 19, 1993, that speaks to the prevailing mindset at Interior, and it says:

And I quote:

"This memorandum addresses only the politics of Ward Valley. I can imagine no scenario that allows us to go forward with the land transfer and retain credibility with Boxer and the enviros."

So to keep themselves out of hot water with environmental groups, Deputy Secretary Garamendi had to devise a new way to delay Ward Valley while simultaneously waging a public relations and political campaign against the site.

As far as John Garamendi was concerned, a new excuse for a new study and further delay simply had to be found.

So in February 1996, the Department of Interior evidently struck gold, or thought they had. A former low-level waste facility in Beatty, NV, was determined to be `leaking.'

Ignoring the fact the Director of the U.S. Geological Survey told him that you could not relate Ward Valley with the Beatty, NV, site, Deputy Secretary Garamendi knew a good excuse for another study when he saw one and a PR campaign to go with it.

So environmental and radiological factsheets were prepared by the Department for the press and the public, factsheets that were later criticized by the chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the errors and misinformation they contained.

Press conferences were held where Deputy Secretary Garamendi announced that new tritium tests would be conducted, and another new EIS would be performed because of so-called new information about the Beatty, NV, site.

These new studies and the lawsuits that would surely follow might take years.

But what were Interior's true motivations? Did Interior ever intend to transfer the site under their watch? Was Interior interested in the public health and safety or good PR and political advantage?

Mr. President, I now have the internal memo that cuts through the public statements and press releases to provide clear insight into the Department's motivations. Let me read this memorandum for my colleagues. It is dated February 21, 1996,


"TO: Bruce Babbitt
"FROM: John Garamendi.
"SUBJECT: Ward Valley:

[Page: S10908]

"Attached are the Ward Valley [press] clips. We have taken the high ground. Wilson--Meaning Governor Pete Wilson--is the venal toady of special interests (radiation business).

It goes further to state:

"I do not think Greenpeace will picket you any longer. I will maintain a heavy PR campaign until the issue is finally won."

Mr. President, here is the Deputy Secretary of Interior engaged in a PR campaign to portray the Governor of California as a venal toady. For those in this Chamber who may not know the precise definition of a `venal toady,' it means a deferential, fawning parasite who is open to bribery.

A venal toady. That is Secretary Garamendi's characterization of the Governor of California, or the goal of his PR campaign. I am not sure which.

Is this what Deputy Secretary Garamendi calls the high ground? Is it taking the high ground to call for study after study and create delay after delay while ignoring all the studies that show the site is safe so far?

Is it taking the high ground to keep radioactive waste spread around 800 locations in California subject to some accidental release, a flood, fire or earthquake, where literally millions of people could be exposed to radioactivity, or finding a site and put it there, which we have given California the authority to do?

Is it taking the high ground to say you are working to protect public health when you are, in fact, endangering the public's health?

Is it taking the high ground to pretend to be pursuing a careful deliberative process following standards of good Government when, in fact, you are waging a ruthless PR campaign in which misstatements and half-truths are used?

Remember, I am not the one claiming that misstatements have been made. President Clinton's own selection as chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Dr. Shirley Jackson, has highlighted the Interior Department's misleading errors and misstatements in her letter to me of July 22, 1997, which I ask unanimous consent be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the letter was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:

[click here to view letter as published on NRC web page (]

[Page: S10909]

Mr. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, I might add, I did not seek this letter from the NRC. It came unsolicited. Perhaps one might give the Department the benefit of the doubt and recognize that it is human to err. But then you encounter a memorandum such as that of February 21 to the Secretary and the Department's intent becomes obvious.

This is nothing more than a political and public relations game. Secretary Garamendi seems to be saying: Let's not worry about the waste or danger it may pose. If nothing is done, that's fine. Let somebody else take care of it on their watch. But let's just make the Governor of California look like a `parasite open to bribery,' as the definition of `venal toady' describes.

I believe that the Department of Interior has absolutely no intention of transferring the Ward Valley land until they are ordered to do so by the Congress or the courts.

If the Senators from California and I cannot work out something with respect to land transfer legislation, we will either have to have a floor fight of some kind or be content to let the courts decide the issue.

I encourage my colleagues to recognize the significance of the administration's attitude toward the Ward Valley issue and refer to the memorandum that I have highlighted of February 21, 1996, from John Garamendi to Bruce Babbitt where he criticizes, in inappropriate terms, the motivation of the Governor of California and suggests to the Secretary that he does not think Greenpeace will picket him any longer.

So again, Mr. President, the terminology, referring to the Governor of California as `the venal toady of special interests,' deserves reflection by my colleagues on the total inappropriateness of such a memorandum from the Deputy Secretary, John Garamendi, to the Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.