Shoshone News-Press, Wednesday, March 3, 2004.

TAG funds not going to be made available

another sorry chapter in EPA's CDA Basin saga

by the SNRC Science Committee.

EPA regulations say that citizens in Superfund sites may group together and apply for "TAG grants" -- or Technical Assistance Grants -- which offer renewable funding of up to $50K per year.

EPA's rationale for its TAG program is that EPA's science behind its Superfund cleanup enterprises is often unclear to ordinary citizens.  Therefore EPA provides funds for a citizens group to hire technical experts to translate EPA science at a particular Superfund site into language that ordinary citizens can understand.

According to the federal regulations, preference is supposed to be given to applicant citizen groups that are most affected by the local Superfund enterprise.

Remember that.

It was 18 months ago or more that SNRC and the SNRC Science Committee got word that Jonathan Coe, president of the Coeur d'Alene Chamber of Commerce, was at work preparing a TAG application for the new CDA Basin Superfund site.

Here in the upper basin we were a little dubious about the CDA Chamber taking the lead on this TAG grant submission.

The City of Coeur d'Alene does not fall within the expanded CDA Basin Superfund site, and Lake Coeur d'Alene, which is a part of the expanded site, was slated for rapid de-listing from the Superfund site, at least according to the language in the EPA's Record of Decision or ROD.

Yet, Coe had assembled a collection of basin groups in his proposed application including the Wallace Chamber of Commerce, thus seemingly giving the upper basin a seat at the table in the grant's preparation.

The Historic Wallace Chamber represented an essential legitimizing presence in the TAG application because of the TAG program's preference (as noted above) for people and communities most affected by the Superfund in question.

We went along with Coe's plan.

Time passed.

By September or October, 2002 we in the upper basin had heard that EPA had had problems with Coe's TAG application.  EPA, as it happened, could not fund a TAG applicant group in which PRPs (Superfund lingo for "Potentially Responsible Parties") had a significant presence.

That eliminated the CDA Chamber's eligibility, so Coe concocted a made-to-order new group that could serve as the TAG applicant.

This new (would-be) group was given the name "Basin Clean-Up Coalition" (BCUC), not to be confused with the "Basin Environmental Improvement Commission" that came into existence in April, 2002 to implement the ROD.

Problem was, to our knowledge, no one in the Wallace Chamber, SNRC, nor the Science Committee was informed of the newly created group.  Coe dropped the Wallace Chamber from the new list of participating members, doubtless for the same no-PRP-presence-allowed reason.

Because no other upper basin group or individual was substituted, however, dropping the Wallace Chamber also deprived the new applicant entity of the legitimacy that derives from representing the people and community most affected by the new Superfund site.

By the end of 2002, both the Shoshone County Commissioners and SNRC had written letters to Region 10 EPA objecting to the non-representation of upper basin residents in Coe's revised application.

Robin Stanley, newly elected SNRC chair, also responded to the situation by hammering out an informal agreement with Coe that the distribution of funds from the $50K TAG would be roughly in proportion to the geographical distribution of Superfund spending in the basin.  Such an agreement, if abided by, would insure that the upper basin would get the lion's share of the grant, at least for the first five years of the Superfund enterprise.

In February, 2003, Coe made a visit to one of the regular SNRC meetings to explain what had happened with the TAG application and to assure SNRC members that upper basin voices would have every opportunity to shape the use of TAG funds after the grant had actually been secured.

Coe, true to his agreement with Robin Stanley, produced a set of guidelines for new BCUC members in which one of the conditions of membership was a willingness to go along with the "geographical proportionality of funds" distribution idea.

Everything seemed all right.

That is, until the first two meetings of the new TAG group, in September and October, 2003.

At these meetings a number of problematic features of the revised TAG grant were unearthed through questioning of Coe and EPA.  The problems rankled both upper-basin participants and other participants as well.

For one, Coe had arranged in the TAG proposal that $19K (or 38% of the total $50K award) would flow to the CDA Chamber for the cost of administering the grant.

More usually, we understood, TAG-recieving organizations worked-off the 20 percent match required from them by taking care of grant administration and other grant-related tasks.

Here, however, the Chamber was taking a big slice of the pie for itself.

With the CDA Chamber getting so great a fraction of the TAG funding for administrative overhead, Robin Stanley's proportionality agreement with Coe was in effect violated before the first meeting had even begun.

In due course, a hue and cry went up about this and other features of the grant.  News of the discord ultimately reached the EPA's Office of the Inspector General in Washington, D.C.

In early November, 2003 news arrived that EPA was "holding up" the already-issued TAG grant for review.

Finally, the day after Christmas, 2003, EPA announced in its No. 4 issue of its BASIN BULLETIN Superfund newsletter that the TAG grant to the Coeur d'Alene Basin Superfund site had been withdrawn.

Moreover, this announcement -- presented in the form of an answer to a "frequently asked question" -- said that no new TAG grant for the CDA Basin would be offered "in the near future."

Instead, said the newsletter, "...EPA will continue to support the Basin Environmental Improvement Commission, the Citizens Coordinating Committee and other efforts in the Basin."

My goodness!

No mention was made that the Citizens Coordinating Committee does not perform the functions that a TAG is intended to provide.

No mention was made that EPA, by not initiating a new TAG process, was in effect "punishing the victim" -- namely the citizens of the upper basin.

Upper basin residents had no say in the way Coe's faulty TAG proposal was assembled.  If we had, we certainly would have objected to its excessive administrative costs.

Yet it is now upper basin's citizens -- the same citizens whose communities are currently the focus of the great preponderance of Superfund expenditures -- who lose the opportunity offered by a TAG grant.

So closes another sorry chapter in the saga of EPA's Coeur d'Alene Basin Superfund enterprise.