Plutonium bill introduced to protect S.C.
Friday, May 3, 2002
BY AMY GEIER
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
The Energy Department has said plutonium
shipments could start arriving in the state as soon as May
"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
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lawsuit could be withdrawn if both sides reach an agreement.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.
prefers a legislative solution.
believed that a lawsuit against the federal government involving
high-level national security issues will fail," he
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
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