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Court Agrees to Hear Challenge to EPA Rule for Yucca Mountain Nuclear Dump

March 18, 2002

Court Agrees to Hear Challenge to EPA Rule for Yucca Mountain Nuclear Dump

Environmental, Public Interest Groups Contend Standard Is Too Lenient

WASHINGTON, D.C. ? A lawsuit challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency?s (EPA) controversial standards for a proposed nuclear waste dump in Nevada has survived a critical hurdle.

In a March 12 order, the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to hear the merits of three lawsuits challenging the standards. Last June, a coalition of national and Nevada-based environmental and public interest organizations filed a lawsuit charging that EPA?s rule was too lenient because it allows the U.S. Department of Energy to permit radioactive waste to leak from the dump rather than ensure it is contained. The case was later consolidated with lawsuits from the state of Nevada and the Nuclear Energy Institute.

In November, the EPA asked that the case be dismissed on the grounds that approval had not yet been granted to construct the proposed repository at Yucca Mountain. The petitioners countered that the EPA rule sets the standard by which the project?s suitability is assessed and that officials were already relying on the rule to make decisions.

In last week?s order, the court decided not to dismiss the case. Instead, it ruled that the question of dismissal should be taken up when the court considers the merits of the case.

“This is a victory, although it?s only the first step,” said Geoff Fettus, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We will ask the court to overturn the weakest aspects of EPA?s Yucca Mountain radiation protection standards in order to protect the environment and public health.”

Added said Lisa Gue, policy analyst with Public Citizen?s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program, “The EPA?s inadequate standards provided a basis for Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham?s recommendation in favor of the proposed repository. This clear example of undercutting environmental regulations to allow a fundamentally flawed project to move forward sets an unacceptable precedent.”

It is unlikely that the case will be resolved before Congress votes on the Yucca Mountain proposal later this year.