The other side of the mountain

Lawsuit could be starting place to reclaim nuclear waste site

We remain skeptical that the courts will step in to save Yucca Mountain -- and, by extension, the Central Savannah River Area.


But one can hope.

Aiken County and others want the courts to overrule the Obama administration's decision to end the Yucca Mountain, Nev., plan for nuclear waste disposal. A hearing is now set for March 22 before a Washington, D.C., appeals court.

As a matter of principle, it's important that the courts give great deference to the other two branches of government to set -- or reset -- national policy. Most judges undoubtedly feel the same.

But the lawsuit by Aiken County, South Carolina and others is bolstered by a decision of the federal Atomic Safety and Licensing Board last June that the Obama administration overstepped its legal authority in ending the Yucca Mountain project.

The board wrote that the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 "does not give (the Secretary of Energy) the discretion to substitute his policy for the one established by Congress ..."

Therein lies our opportunity: if the courts rule that the Executive Branch -- the Obama administration -- is usurping the power of the Legislative Branch -- the Congress -- to set the nation's nuclear policy.

Pray it works. Otherwise, the nearby Savannah River Site, and every other nuclear waste-producing facility around the country, will likely become a permanent nuclear waste dump, with all the hazards that suggests.

No one here signed up for that, particularly Congress. Nor has it been established -- and we doubt it ever would -- that SRS and the CSRA is a location suitable to permanent storage of radioactive waste. It hasn't been scientifically sold or politically vetted. Consider the population centers in the Southeast, including your favorite city by the Savannah. Consider the geology. Consider the surrounding ecosystem.

Then consider the fact that the Yucca Mountain site was, as the Atomic Safety & Licensing Board noted, "two decades in the making and undergirded by millions of pages of studies, reports, and related materials at a reported cost of over $10 billion."

That bears repeating: "millions of pages of studies, reports, and related materials."

In one arrogant fell swoop, the Obama administration threw out all that science, all that study, all that investment. It is now searching for a Plan B.

Well, if they think Plan B is to make the greater Augusta area a nuclear waste repository, they've got another thing coming.

This is not the first time the Obama administration has overstepped its bounds in policy-making. It has established a number of unaccountable czars, unconfirmed by the Senate and virtually unknown to the public. It tried, until word got out, to insert end-of-life counseling into new Medicare rules, when Congress explicitly left that out of the health-care bill. And it has attempted to begin regulating all carbon emissions, a la the administration's "cap and trade" bill that has thus far failed in Congress.

The administration has done all this and more with the negligent acquiescence of a lapdog Democratic Congress. But members of Congress have given away what was never theirs to give.

If the separate powers doctrine enumerated by the Constitution is to mean anything again, perhaps this lawsuit is a good place to start.