McKenna to sue federal government over Hanford cleanup

Chris Rizo Nov. 26, 2008, 10:11am

Rob McKenna (R)

OLYMPIA, Wash. (Legal Newsline)-Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna and Gov. Christine Gregoire plan today to sue the federal government over the cleanup at the Hanford nuclear reservation.

"The state has now concluded that Energy will only treat and retrieve tank waste in a timely manner if a court intervenes, establishes a schedule and maintains oversight of the work until it is completed," they wrote in a letter to Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman warning of the lawsuit.

Washington officials have been in talks for more than a year with U.S. Department of Energy officials over cleanup at the decommissioned nuclear production complex in south-central Washington, where 53 million gallons of radioactive waste is in 177 underground tanks.

"The state negotiated in good faith for an acceptable change in the cleanup schedule," McKenna said. "After 18 months of negotiations, the state and federal agencies reached agreement on work to be performed - and on a schedule."

The Republican attorney general said the state is prepared to agree on a "realistic and technically achievable" cleanup schedule.

"We do not bring this suit lightly, but it's time for a specific timeline, established and enforced by the courts, to clean up the Hanford site," he added. "We simply cannot wait any longer."

The attorney general and governor say they plan to ask a federal judge to set new deadlines for cleanup and enforce those benchmarks. The state and federal governments have failed to reach an out-of-court settlement.

"In Washington State, we have been patient and reasonable in working with the federal agencies at Hanford," Gregoire said. "Today our patience has run out."

The lawsuit will come as federal lawmakers prepare to consider Hanford's fiscal 2009 budget. A lawsuit could prompt Congress to slow funding until the courts rule on the case, the Tri-City Development Council has warned.

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