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State’s Hanford suit should get Obama’s attention

Post by Kim Bradford on Dec. 1, 2008 at 7:21 pm with No Comments »
December 1, 2008 7:21 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

The incoming Obama administration could use a reminder that the nation’s energy obligations include cleaning up Cold War sites.

Gov. Chris Gregoire and Attorney General Rob McKenna are done being patient about cleanup progress at the Hanford nuclear reservation, and it’s hard to blame them.

The state has been exceedingly reasonable in pressing the federal government to live up to the Hanford cleanup pact signed nearly 20 years ago. Gregoire and McKenna simply asked that, in exchange for giving the federal government more time to meet its own deadlines, the new timeline be enforceable in court.

The Justice Department said no. So after 18 months of trying to talk sense to federal negotiators, Washington is going to court.

It’s a smart and timely move that has drawn what might seem to be unlikely critics. Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Doc Hastings – the Washington delegation’s leads on Hanford funding – worry that the lawsuit could derail sensitive talks in Congress to get Hanford the funding it needs.

No doubt about it, Murray and Hastings are in a tough spot. Their colleagues are looking for any reason not to earmark more money for Hanford.

But this lawsuit isn’t aimed at Congress, or at least it shouldn’t be. The lawsuit is about getting the attention of the incoming Obama administration.

Washington cannot assume that the next White House will live up to the nation’s obligations at Hanford any better than the Bush administration has.

President-elect Barack Obama knew nothing of Hanford just six months ago. What little is known about Obama’s positions on Department of Energy cleanup obligations is that he opposed the construction of a permanent repository in Nevada, a project that is key to ridding Hanford of highly radioactive wastes now sitting in underground tanks.

Obama also is caught between ambitious campaign promises and tough economic times. He’ll need money for his new clean energy initiatives, and it can’t have escaped his advisers’ notice that one-fourth of the Energy Department’s $25 billion budget now goes to mopping up environmental messes left by World War II and Cold War nuclear production.

Washington state’s lawsuit serves notice that the federal government’s next Manhattan-style Project doesn’t relieve the country of its debt to those communities still dealing with the toxic legacy of the original.

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