Public Outreach

The Public Outreach Challenge

50 year anniversary article

Public Perceptions of the PGDP

While the PGDP has enjoyed strong support from many who reside in the Paducah area, primarily because of the number of jobs the facility provides and its subsequent impact on the regional economy, a number of residents who live near the facility have developed a strong distrust of the federal government and of US DOE, in particular.  The site has been the focus of many federal investigations, as well as the subject of numerous published articles in such newspapers as The Washington Post (Warrick, 1999) and in such magazines as The New Yorker (Mason, 2000).  The site also is suspected to have served as the inspiration for a recent novel (Mason, 2006).

Based on numerous interviews with local stakeholders, it appears that US DOE’s past attempts to educate and involve the Paducah community, including the creation of a public information center and the formation of a Citizen’s Advisory Board comprised of local residents, have largely been unsuccessful in building trust, especially with many residents who either live near the facility or are active in environmental and health advocacy.  Thus, additional attempts to involve the general public in any substantive way toward developing a future vision for the facility can engender reactions ranging from extreme skepticism to apathy to anger.  As one local activist put it, "[DOE’s] process seems to be…how can we get around the interest of the people, how can we get them to swallow this one more time" (KRCEE, personal communication, July 2009).

Site-Specific Challenges

  • Historic secrecy
  • Past environmental practices
  • Public's distrust of government/DOE
    • prior engagements concentrate on regulatory than public concerns
  • Government/DOE inability or aversion to engage or involve the public
    • Assumes issues are too complex for citizens to understand
    • Prior negative experiences with public involvement, fear of losing control
    • Lack of an effective strategy to truly involve the public
  • Critical investigations (OMB, Washington Post, Courier Journal)
  • Perception of health impacts for workers and residents
  • Economic concerns about plant closure
  • Rumors or "Urban" legends

KRCEE Public Engagement Findings

  • Interviewees expressed concern that community interests were not being taken into account at previous DOE Public Participation Programs
  • Concerns were emphasized that DOE focused only on one advisory board, overlooking the need to reach out to, provide opportunities for, and take into account, the interests of most citizens.

KRCEE Recommendations

Referencing the "Politics of Cleanup" a report prepared by Energy Communities Alliance (ECA) with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Office of Environmental Management

  • Recommendation #1: All Parties Must Collaborate — The federal government, local governments, community members, state and federal agencies, and Congress must collaborate when developing the cleanup and future use vision for the site.
  • Recommendation #5: Understand Community Values — To properly collaborate, the parties must work to understand the values of the community, and must work to incorporate such values into the planning process.
  • Recommendation #6: Education Is Essential — The parties must take the time to educate each other on the technical and policy issues underlying the cleanup and to commit staff resources to engage each other. Discussion, which need to take place throughout the process, must also include the question of technical risk and perceptions of risk, recognizing perceptions of risks posed do not always align with the technical risk.
    • DOE and the regulators need to exert whatever time and effort it takes to educate the affected entities about the various issues involved in site cleanups.
  • Recommendation #14: Following the Minimum in the Law Is Not Enough — Minimum regulatory requirements are insufficient to support substantive public involvement; the parties must develop public involvement processes that are tailored to site-specific needs, recognizing that process is different from negotiations.
    • A public involvement process for the sake of process will yield little positive results and will not serve to support a timely cleanup
  • DOE should seek to integrate ongoing public engagement activities in a more coordinated manner (e.g. the Future Vision Study and the parallel public meetings on waste disposal alternatives). Failure to do so can create confusion and send mixed signals to the community.
  • DOE should consider adopting these methodologies as a template for implementing a long-term public engagement process consistent with the recommendations of the "Politics of Cleanup" (POC) Report and the conclusions of this study.


In conclusion, if the recommendations of the POC Report are to be fully achieved, Public Engagement can no longer be viewed as a single project, or an add-on to a larger project. It also cannot be viewed as a series of disjointed projects. Instead, it is our conviction that is must be both viewed and implemented as an ongoing, iterative, and evolving process that:

  • Involves the total community
  • Is tailored to local community
  • Incorporates community values
  • Fosters collaboration
  • Provides accountability and invokes trust
  • Continues to inform and educate stakeholders
  • Provides for an inclusive and truly democratic way for the concerns and preferences of the local citizens to be both heard and valued

KRCEE Projects

Review our projects associated with the Public Outreach Challenge