OLYMPIA -- Washington Attorney General Christine Gregoire and Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers today put the federal government on notice that they will sue the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) if the department refuses to assess the environmental harm caused by decades of nuclear weapons production at Hanford.
In a letter to top federal officials, Gregoire and Myers said they will ask a court to order required assessments of environmental harm at Hanford if the federal government does not perform the assessments. Under federal law, the letter is required before a lawsuit can be filed.
While cleanup efforts have been under way at Hanford for a number of years, the federal government never has performed a thorough analysis of the harm that Hanford nuclear production caused to groundwater, wildlife and other natural resources, Gregoire and Myers said. Such an assessment, required by federal law, will lead to a better cleanup by ensuring the government understands the cost of failing to identify and correct problems, they said.
"The Hanford Reservation's essential role in defending our national security carried a steep environmental price tag," Gregoire said. "Our states have a duty to ensure that the federal government identifies and repairs that damage."
Gregoire stressed that the state's goal in sending the letter is not to recover monetary damages from DOE. Instead, the goal is to make sure the cleanup is as thorough as possible.
The letter follows the U.S. Department of Justice's (DOJ) rejection of both states' requests to join in a federal court mediation between the DOE and the Yakama Indian Nation, which is one of the natural resources "trustees" at Hanford. Washington and Oregon are also trustees.
In 2002, the Yakama Nation, in its role as a trustee, filed a Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) action against the DOE and the Department of Defense. The Yakamas asked for monetary damages or the restoration and replacement of natural resources damaged as a result of federal activities at Hanford.
Because Washington and Oregon citizens have strong interests in the Hanford cleanup, both states asked to join the mediation without having to formally file suit against the United States. The Yakama Nation welcomed the states, but the DOJ rejected their request.
The mediation between the Yakama Nation and DOE has not yet begun.