Former Idaho Gov. Cecil D. Andrus filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the U.S. Department of Energy in an effort to force the federal agency to comply with the federal Freedom of Information Act and publicly share information the department has refused to release relating to proposed shipment of commercial spent nuclear fuel to the Idaho National Laboratory.
The lawsuit comes after months of effort by Andrus to require DOE to provide relevant and timely information to the citizens of Idaho about its request for a “waiver” from the 1995 Batt Agreement that would allow the agency, in direct violation of the 20-year old agreement, to bring commercial waste to the Idaho lab.
“It is clear that the federal government is withholding information from the people of Idaho that will allow all of us to more completely assess what they have in mind in both the short and long term with regard to commercial spent fuel coming to Idaho,” Andrus said in a news release. “I don’t take legal action lightly, but I do believe the information that DOE has refused to provide is essential to protecting Idaho’s environment as well as protecting the integrity of Governor Batt’s historic agreement.”
Andrus is seeking “injunctive and other appropriate relief and seeking the disclosure and release of agency records improperly withheld.”
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Andrus, under the Freedom of Information Act, requested information about the waiver and proposed shipments in January 2015. The agency stalled for months before providing the former governor with dozens of redacted pages, according to Andrus. The agency said releasing the redacted material would “not be in the public interest.” The only information DOE supplied Andrus was material already in the public record, including newspaper accounts of DOE’s request for a waiver from state officials. Andrus appealed the decision to withhold the information and that appeal was also denied.
“The DOE has left us little choice but to ask the federal courts to enforce the law,” said Laird Lucas, the executive director of Advocates for the West, who prepared the legal action. “A fundamental tenet of the American system of government is openness and transparency. The people have both a right and an obligation to know what their government is doing. That is why we feel it is so important to bring this information to light.”
The complaint notes that, “Numerous newspaper articles and opinions in Idaho have attempted to shed light on this issue. DOE has responded to the media’s attention by spinning the issue as a matter of supporting jobs at INL, rather than dealing with nuclear waste in Idaho ... Although DOE has attempted to minimize the significance of the proposed commercial spent nuclear fuel shipments by describing them as ‘research quantities,’ DOE has briefed Idaho’s Leadership in Nuclear Energy Commission on the possibility of future ‘research’ at INL involving more than 20 metric tons of spent fuel.”
Andrus said he thinks DOE has formulated long-range plans to bring significantly larger amounts of commercial waste material to Idaho and that lacking a permanent national repository for this highly radioactive material, Idaho will for the foreseeable future become that repository.
“Without DOE leveling with Idaho about both near-term and longer range plans we simply have no ability to assess the wisdom of what they are planning for the state,” Andrus said. “I suspect they know what they are planning will be very controversial and for that reason they want to keep it secret. That is simply unacceptable.”
Andrus was elected governor of Idaho in 1970, 1974, 1986 and 1990, and he served as U.S. secretary of interoir from 1977 to 1981.