“WASHINGTON, Feb. 25 – A House panel today gave the Federal Emergency Management Agency 30 days to disclose how it intends to respond to a state report concluding that emergency plans are inadequate to protect the public in the event of a disastrous radiation leak at the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Westchester County.
The deadline comes at a time when state and federal officials are sniping at one another about who is required to come forward and make a firm recommendation on whether emergency plans required to keep the plant operating are sufficient to protect the public.
In January, an independent report commissioned by Gov. George E. Pataki concluded that current evacuation plans cannot protect residents in the densely populated, four-county area around Indian Point. The report was compiled by James Lee Witt, a former director of FEMA.
But state officials provided no further guidance to FEMA on whether the evacuation plans could work.
Late last week, FEMA announced that it intended to withhold its endorsement of emergency plans at the nuclear plant, saying it needed more documentation from local officials to determine whether the emergency plans would work. The agency also disputed some claims in the report commissioned by the state, drawing criticism from opponents of the plant.
Today, members of the House subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management told Joseph J. Picciano, the acting regional director of FEMA, that the agency had 30 days to provide a detailed response to the findings in the report commissioned by Mr. Pataki.
Representative Sue Kelly, a Westchester Republican who as a member of the panel called for the hearing, warned that if FEMA did not comply, she would introduce legislation requiring it to do so.
”This isn’t a game,” she said. ”This is about the safety of 20 million residents in the New York City metropolitan area, and FEMA needs to step up to the plate and begin taking immediate steps to help local officials deal with the issues raised in the Witt report.”
But Mr. Picciano, the only FEMA official to testify at the hearing, said that the agency had taken the report’s findings into account. He also said the agency had made no decision on whether the emergency evacuation plans were adequate.
In a 500-page preliminary report issued on Friday, FEMA said that its uncertainty over emergency plans for communities surrounding the plant, which is on the Hudson River in Buchanan , N.Y. , about 35 miles north of Manhattan , stemmed from the state’s failure to provide detailed information about what specific steps those communities would take if a catastrophe occurred.
Last month, leaders of the four counties around the plant said they could not endorse evacuation plans drawn up for their communities. Without endorsements from the county level, state officials said that they could not offer what are considered routine certifications of such plans.
Lacking the state’s own certification, FEMA said it could not endorse the emergency plans in its report to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which requires FEMA approval as a condition for granting operating licenses for nuclear plants. FEMA officials have asked the state to submit certification plans for the communities around the plant by May 2, just before the agency sends its final report to the N.R.C.
Representative Kelly chastised FEMA for failing to act on the findings of the Witt report. ”I say with no uncertainty that I am appalled by the conduct of FEMA as it relates to Indian Point,” she said. ”The agency’s inaction and bureaucratic finger pointing has been a disservice to our community.”
The current disaster plan focuses on the 300,000 people who live within 10 miles of the plant and would be most affected by a disaster. Although the report by Mr. Witt said the state should take into account people evacuating on their own outside that 10-mile radius, it did not suggest that wholesale evacuation plans be developed for more distant places like New York City .”
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