I was pleased and honored recently to receive a letter from the Secretary of Energy confirming my appointment to the Department of Energy’s Environmental Management Advisory Board (EMAB). Members of EMAB are appointed by the Secretary of Energy and serve at the discretion of the Assistant Secretary for EM. My role will be to provide expert advice on environmental stewardship, science, and technology. My term ends in Sept. 2016. The mission of EMAB is to provide independent and external advice, information, and recommendations to the Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management (EM) on corporate issues relating to accelerated site clean-up and risk reduction. These issues include project management and oversight activities; cost/benefit analyses; program performance; human capital development; and contracts and acquisition strategies. EMAB membership includes individuals from private industry, academia, the scientific community, and governmental and nongovernmental entities. (You can learn more about EMAB here.)
As I think about this appointment, I recall a conversation I had many years ago with Dr. Alvin Weinberg. It was a wonderful spring afternoon (much like we’ve been having recently here in East Tennessee), and I had the privilege of sharing the afternoon with him in his home in Oak Ridge. Just Weinberg and me. (What a treat!) I’m sure I asked him dozens of questions that afternoon. One question I asked went something like this, “What do you consider to be the greatest oversight or worst mistake made by you and your fellow founders of the nuclear age?” His response was immediate and passionate. “We underestimated the challenge of dealing with nuclear waste.” And then almost as quickly he added, “I’m not speaking of the technical challenge. I think that has been largely solved. I’m speaking of the challenge of dealing with the public and with the public perception that this is an insurmountable problem.” Now of course, Dr. Weinberg was speaking primarily about the waste associated with commercial nuclear power. But I’ve never forgotten that conversation and the larger implications of that conversation with regard both to commercial nuclear power and the legacy waste from our federal nuclear enterprise.
Just a few days ago I had the pleasure of attending the graduation of my niece, Taylor, at the University of Tennessee. The commencement speaker was Jim Haslam (founder of Pilot Corporation and father of our current Governor Bill Haslam). As is his style, Jim addressed the graduates and attendees with a brief, focused, and memorable speech. Among the few points he shared was one that when something like this: “There are three phases in our lives. Early on, you LEARN – you prepare for your future. Then, you EARN – you earn you way forward in the world. Finally, you RETURN – you give back to those who helped you along the way and to society in general.” I really liked his speech. Personally however, I like to think that at some point, the learning, earning, and returning become coexistent lifestyle attributes, rather than a strictly serial sequence of life phases. Learning never stops. Earning doesn’t end. Returning is a continuous activity. (I’ll bet Mr. Haslam really feels that way as well.)
Serving on EMAB is one small way to “return” something to an enterprise that has given me so much over the past thirty-five years. I look forward to serving. I encourage you to ask, "How can I serve?" and "How can I return?" Every one of us has been equipped with gifts, talents, and experiences that qualify us well to serve others. How about you? Who are you serving?