The state on Monday committed $300,000 to its court fight against the federal government’s bid to resume dumping nuclear waste at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory.
The cash was earmarked from the newly created $1 million Constitutional Defense Fund and will be used to cover the cost of private attorneys hired to augment the state attorney general’s staff and expenses incurred in challenging the validity of the federal decision that another 1,950 shipments of waste can be safely stored at INEL.
“This Constitutional Defense Fund was created to protect states’ rights,” House Speaker Michael Simpson said. “Idahoans ought to be involved in deciding whether or not we ought to take additional shipments of spent fuel.”
The unanimous action by Gov. Phil Batt, Attorney General Al Lance, Senate President Pro Tem Jerry Twiggs and Simpson came as the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco remained silent on the U.S. Navy’s petition to lift a two-year injunction against waste shipments so national security will not be jeopardized.
The Navy wanted an appellate ruling by last Friday so six shipments could immediately leave its Newport News, Va., shipyard for INEL. But the appellate court declined to meet that deadline.
The government is fighting U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge’s May 19 continuation of the shipment ban imposed in 1993 by the late U.S. District Judge Harold Ryan. Ryan’s order was imposed until the federal government completed a comprehensive environmental study that determined additional shipments to INEL could be made safely. It did so on June 1.
But the state maintains that the study was invalid because it did not accurately assess the health and safety impacts of the 261 tons of radioactive waste at INEL already and focused only on the 165 more tons the government wants to bring in. In banning shipments, Ryan pointed out that a number of waste management facilities at INEL were either already being used to their maximum capacity or nearing the end of their useful life.
The state claims the Navy is trying to hide behind unfounded claims that national security is at stake to resume dumping without meeting its environmental responsibilities. And it has accused the Energy Department, which oversees waste management, with threatening to suspend environmental cleanup at INEL if the state continues to fight resumption of dumping. The department denies that charge.
But Batt, in urging the cash commitment to finance the court battle, cited the longstanding uncertainty over the government’s real commitment to cleaning up the waste mess in eastern Idaho.
“These have been under negotiations for many years,” he said. “There have been many promises made over the years. Some have been met. Some have not. Now, we are facing reduced federal funding.”
Batt and the other state leaders underscored that the first decision to use cash from the special defense fund was made on 105th anniversary of statehood, emphasizing the fund’s goal of asserting state sovereignty against unwarranted federal incursions.