Our Voice: DOE's land transfer rules suffer from lack of input

The Department of Energy needs to restart its efforts to revise rules for making excess land at nuclear weapons sites available for economic development.

And this time, DOE should seek input from the people who must live with the rules.

The department has forged ahead with rule changes without engaging members of the public most affected by land-transfer policies. As a result, DOE has made it more difficult for communities near the nation's nuclear sites to recover from cuts in federal spending.

That's the opposite of what DOE should be doing.

Energy officials contend that the changes were limited to revisions to clarify regulations, and DOE and the Office of Management and Budget believe that no additional public notice or opportunity for public comment was required.

But the goal is not simply to meet the minimum requirements for public participation. It's to create jobs to replace the ones lost when the government shrunk the nuclear weapons program.

Admittedly, DOE isn't in the job-creation business, nor should it be. But it ought to effectively administer the programs Congress created to help communities dependent on weapons sites, such as the Tri-Cities, transition to a new economy.

The transfer of surplus lands for industrial use is designed to do just that.

The Tri-City Development Council has plans to reuse 1,341 acres of land near Richland, which it proposed dividing into a large site for one or two enterprises providing 2,000 to 3,000 jobs combined and three smaller sites that would support another 400 to 500 jobs.

As the federal government's designated community reuse organization for Hanford, TRIDEC wouldn't own the land but facilitate transferring ownership to companies willing to create new jobs here.

But according to TRIDEC and the Energy Communities Alliance, DOE's new regulations are creating roadblocks to the efficient transfer of excess land at Hanford and other nuclear weapons sites.

"DOE is releasing regulations that negatively impact communities," the Energy Communities Alliance recently said in a letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

It's ludicrous that these issues are raised toward the end of the process. The revised rules are set to go into effect Friday. The situation could have been avoided by consulting the agencies affected by the proposed changes and learning about potential problems beforehand.

Handing policies down from on high without the input of the people who will implement the rules is asking for needless and easily avoided complications. Common sense should tell DOE as much.

The good news is it's not too late. "There is no impact to DOE to delay the effective date of the regulation and seek public comment," according to the alliance letter.

The alliance is right. But a negative impact is virtually guaranteed by not seeking public comment. DOE should change course now, while it's still easy.