Click Here!

State News

Plutonium bill introduced to protect S.C.

Friday, May 3, 2002

Associated Press

     COLUMBIA-A constitutional law professor says Gov. Jim Hodges may have improved his chances of beating the federal government by suing the Energy Department over plutonium shipments to the state, but a South Carolina congressman said it hurts a potential compromise.
     U.S. Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., introduced legislation Thursday with U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., that aims to protect the state from becoming a permanent plutonium storage site.
     Graham, who had urged Hodges to sign on to a proposed deal with the government, said the lawsuit made the legislation necessary.
     "Intended or not, the governor's lawsuit has chilled promising negotiations," Graham said. "We needed to introduce legislation before anyone could dismantle or walk away from their commitment to the concessions we've already won."
     Hodges wants a binding legal assurance that weapons-grade plutonium will not be left at Savannah River Site near Aiken permanently if plans to convert it to fuel never materialize.
     The actions of the federal government almost always take precedence over states, said Eldon Wedlock, a professor at the University of South Carolina. But Hodges' suit, which claims the Energy Department failed to file environmental impact statements, could even the playing field.
     The U.S. government has "the upper hand, but this complaint throws the entire case into federal court," Wedlock said. "Hodges needs that because he needs federal judicial power on his side to stave off federal executive power."
     The Energy Department has so far refused to agree to a court-supervised agreement on when the plutonium would leave the state.Hodges' suit asks the court to block plutonium shipments from the Rocky Flats facility in Colorado until the federal government files the environmental impact statements required by law.
     The Energy Department has said plutonium shipments could start arriving in the state as soon as May 15.
     "While some progress has been made, the clock is ticking," Hodges wrote to the state's congressional delegation. Hodges worries the conversion program will never be funded and that the plutonium will stay in South Carolina indefinitely.
     Conducting environmental impact studies could take six months to a year. "If we're successful, there will be a significant delay," Hodges said. "It will throw a significant roadblock in their way."
     Hodges said the lawsuit could be withdrawn if both sides reach an agreement. He promised to continue negotiations while the suit goes through the courts, but said he would seek a restraining order, if necessary, to stop the shipments until the suit is resolved.
     Graham, R-S.C., prefers a legislative solution.
     "I've always believed that a lawsuit against the federal government involving high-level national security issues will fail," he said.
     DOE spokesman Joe Davis said the agency is disappointed with Hodges' decision to sue.
     Graham's bill requires the energy secretary to report to Congress on the progress of the conversion program. If the secretary does not certify the program is on schedule, plutonium shipments could be stopped.
     The legislation also calls for fines of $1 million per day up to $100 million per year for violations. Plutonium also would be removed if the conversion process isn't completed by 2017.

Click Here!

Click here to send feedback.

Copyright 2002 Charleston.Net. All Rights Reserved.