Gov. Phil Batt’s pro-Idaho image, well-preserved following his controversial nuclear waste deal with the U.S. Department of Energy, got another major boost Thursday from Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary.
Batt was cited as the source of news most unfavorable to the department during the month of July in a $40,000 monitoring project O’Leary ran to track and rank reporters covering Energy Department issues, as well as their sources.
His spotlighting in the report by a private ratings service occurred during the time his negotiations were beginning to heat up with the Energy Department, the Navy and, possibly most notably, the Justice Department over a deal for resumption of nuclear waste dumping at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory.
The deal finally was consummated Oct. 16 after months of wrangling which Batt admitted was extremely frustrating. Batt administration officials have said that the most aggravating situations were those in which the principal negotiators appeared to be in agreement only to have Justice Department attorneys undermine that understanding and force the talks back to square one.
The final agreement trades 1,133 more loads of waste being dumped at INEL for promises that most other waste be removed from Idaho by 2035. Democrats helped deflect criticism of the deal from Idaho’s overwhelmingly anti-waste electorate by claiming that the Republican governor had no choice but to cut the best deal he could - even if it is inadequate - because the GOP congressional delegation, led by Sen. Larry Craig, did nothing to keep Congress from mandating the state take more waste.
Now the news coverage analysis authorized by O’Leary in an apparent search for relief from unflattering press names Batt to what some have identified as the Energy Department’s Public Enemy No. 1.
And it left the governor’s staff a little surprised.
“He’s not very vitriolic,” spokeswoman Amy Kleiner said. “He doesn’t throw a lot of spears. … But the negotiations were tough, and we did force them into a lot of concessions.”
Fifth on that list, which O’Leary denies is an enemies list, is Beatrice Brailsford, the outspoken Snake River Alliance leader who has been among the nuclear waste deal’s harshest critics.
“I’m doing my job,” Brailsford said. “From the DOE’s perspective, the truth hurts.”
And U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge was also among the department’s top 25 unfavorable sources, after siding with the state in its bid to delay unilateral resumption of waste shipments to INEL until after environmental questions were adjudicated.
Lodge, as his predecessor Harold Ryan had also been, was extremely critical of the federal government’s maneuvering in extended legal case.