DOE Office of Environmental Management, state officials underscore importance of partnerships built on trust

The following article was published in the Jan. 19, 2021 issue of EM Update, a weekly newsletter issued by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Environmental Management (EM). The DOE EM Nevada Program was mentioned for its commitment to consistent and transparent communications with regulators:

EM Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Todd Shrader emphasized the importance of collaboration and effective partnerships with state officials based on a strong foundation of trust during the winter meeting of the National Governors Association (NGA) Federal Facilities Task Force (FFTF) on Jan. 14.

Such relationships are established by setting realistic commitments and following through on them, Shrader said.

“The best way to build trust is to deliver,” he said.

Also speaking at the event, Mark Gilbertson, EM Associate Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Regulatory and Policy Affairs, noted the value of having strong relationships between EM site managers and state environmental regulators from the outset before issues occur.

Shrader said EM sites have various processes to interact with regulators.

“What is important to understand is when these groups get together, we all want the same thing,” he said. “We all want to finish the cleanup and we want to finish it as efficiently as we can.”

Shrader and Gilbertson joined EM site managers and members of the NGA FFTF, which consists of governor-appointed policy and technical representatives from 13 states that host DOE facilities with a purpose of assisting DOE in improving coordination of its major program decisions with state regulators. EM maintains a cooperative agreement with NGA.

EM Nevada Program Manager Rob Boehlecke described practices he put in place for the EM Nevada Program that have worked well. Boehlecke has relied on consistent and open communication at multiple levels to ensure he and regulators remain in alignment and are aware of one another’s mission prerogatives.

Regular and early communication has helped build relationships, too, Boehlecke said. He noted the significance of communication between technical experts and project management staff at federal and contractor organizations, and how regulators roll up their sleeves and learn the technical issues with them. It is a collaborative process and their input is valued, he said.

Boehlecke also stressed the importance of having regular meetings to avoid surprises and deal with issues in a timely manner as they arise.

“It’s really just based on open and transparent and continual communications,” he said.

Reinhard Knerr, manager of the Carlsbad Field Office, provided an update on the numerous infrastructure advances being made at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), including the impending restart of the major 700-C fan, progress on the new Safety Significant Confinement Ventilation System, and the excavation of an additional 30-foot diameter utility shaft. All will improve air circulation in the WIPP underground to strengthen worker safety and health, and productivity.

“We’re not just investing in our infrastructure one time,” Knerr said. “It continues to be an ongoing activity as we move forward and that we are routinely ensuring that we have systems, components, and infrastructure in place to safely and compliantly operate the facility and emplace waste.”