New Oak Ridge Regulatory Partnership Achieves Results in First Year

Source: EM Update | Vol. 13, Issue 8; Contributor: Roger Petrie | March 2, 2021

An emerging issues team that’s part of a regulatory partnership framework focused on the Oak Ridge EM program’s cleanup helped obtain early approvals for soil removal projects, allowing effective use of the available workforce and funding.

DOE’s Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management (OREM) and contractor UCOR are attributing acceleration of several cleanup projects to a new regulatory partnership framework that marked its first anniversary in February.

OREM and UCOR leadership formed the framework to aid decision-making and approvals needed to conduct cleanup operations at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and Y-12 National Security Complex (Y-12) following the Oak Ridge EM program’s historic cleanup accomplishments at the East Tennessee Technology Park. They also envision the arrangement potentially serving as a model for other cleanup sites across the DOE complex.

“As we looked ahead to major cleanup at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Y-12 National Security Complex, we took the opportunity to improve partnering and enhance the process for how we solve regulatory challenges collaboratively,” OREM Manager Jay Mullis said.

Members of the framework represent OREM, UCOR, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC). Management representatives serve on an emerging issues team and project management representatives serve on a project team. These teams are working to resolve regulatory challenges and improve communication so the agencies can make protective, timely cleanup decisions.

“Our vision was to empower the emerging issues team to resolve issues that were preventing the project team from completing efforts. We are pleased with the success this approach is having,” TDEC Deputy Commissioner Greg Young said.

In the first months of the framework, the emerging issues team resolved several longstanding issues and expedited approvals for soil removal projects, allowing effective use of the available workforce and funding.

The project team resolved comments on a section of an upcoming draft record of decision for the site’s planned Environmental Management Disposal Facility. That document is crucial in the approval process for the facility, which will provide onsite waste disposal capacity for lower activity level waste generated from ORNL and Y-12 cleanup.

“This has been a tremendous success story that has allowed us to strengthen relationships with our regulatory agencies and collaboratively find solutions to issues,” UCOR President Ken Rueter said. “It’s been remarkable also to pull this off while facing the extra challenge of meeting virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The teams continue to identify and resolve issues and create strategies to best support cleanup pace.

“This effort markedly improves communication and problem solving and fosters our mutual goal of furthering the quality and pace of cleanup. The emerging issues team and leadership team are actively identifying and resolving technical and regulatory hurdles that may otherwise impede cleanup progress,” Acting EPA Deputy Regional Administrator Carol Monell said. “EPA appreciates the dedication of the team and looks forward to continued partnership.”