LBL Earth Sciences Director meets with President Clinton to discuss plans for Pacific Environmental Resources Center

August 20, 1993

By Mary Bodvarsson

When President Clinton visited the Bay Area August 13 (1993) to discuss the conversion of military bases to peacetime use, he met with the recently formed East Bay Conversion and Reinvestment Commission. One of the commission members making presentations to the President was Sally Benson, head of LBL's Earth Sciences Division.

Benson has been a member of the commission since its inception in June under the direction of Congressman Ron Dellums. The commission is composed of members of local government and business, environmental groups, and national labs. It was initially funded by a grant from the Department of Defense to conduct an 18-month study of economic conversion in Alameda County.

The task of the commission, Benson says, is not only to assess the impact on Alameda County of potential closure/downsizing of military bases and national labs in the county, but to identify ways to turn the potentially adverse economic impact into an economic advantage. "The Bay Area has all the problems associated with defense downsizing," Benson says. "But at the same time, we have a real opportunity to design a blueprint for how the transitions should occur.

"We have to ask ourselves, `How can we take these unfortunate circumstances and create reasons for new industry to come to Alameda County?' We have to figure out a way to integrate our capabilities into the economic growth of Bay Area industry. At LBL, for example, we have environmental and biotech expertise, the Advanced Light Source, the National Center for Electron Microscopy, and other ways to support industry."

To date, the commission has identified several major target areas and formed subcommittees to address these areas, which include everything from environmental clean-up to job creation and identification of major intellectual and technical resources. The environmental subcommittee, of which Benson is a member, has a dual role.

"We are looking at how we can expedite reuse of contaminated lands on the bases while making sure that the most innovative and cost-effective technologies are used," she says. "We are also developing an action plan for Alameda County to develop an engine of economic vitality to replace the jobs lost by shutting down the military facilities."

The commission is also working with the Alameda County Economic Development Board. One joint effort has been the proposed Pacific Environmental Resources Center, which would promote technology development, education, training and retraining, demonstration facilities, international marketing, financial assistance for small businesses, and technical assistance with land-use planning and environmental policy.

A critical component of PERC, Benson says, is the involvement of industry and the community to create partnerships that will ensure a return on the investment of programs carried out at the center.

A team of LBL staff, including Rob Johnson from the Deputy Directors Office, earth scientist Chin Fu Tsang, and Reid Edwards and Mike Chartock of LBLs Office of Planning and Development, is also participating in the development of PERC.

At the same time, scientists from LBL, UC Berkeley, and Lawrence Livermore National Lab, working with the Alameda Naval Air Station, have developed three specific demonstration projects using innovative technologies to clean up a fuel spill, a leaking landfill, and metal-contaminated soil at the NAS.

It was the PERC concept that Benson was asked to describe to the President.

"I had the opportunity, as a member of the commission, to meet for two hours with President Clinton, Congressman Ron Dellums, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Senator Barbara Boxer, Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown, and Congressman George Brown." During the meeting, Benson was asked by commission chairman Carl Anthony to describe the concept of PERC to the President.

"During the meeting," Benson said, "and in a subsequent speech at the Alameda Naval Air Station, the President vowed to provide assistance to the community in achieving its conversion goals."

Following the meeting with the President, Benson was invited by Sherry Wasserman-Goodman, DOD Deputy Under-Secretary of Defense, to describe the concept of PERC to the California Base Closure Environmental Committee. Benson says she sees the Lab's involvement with the county as good for both LBL and the community.

"This involvement with Alameda County demonstrates the Lab's commitment to being a valued member of the community and maximizes the value of the Lab for local job creation."