Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden on Tuesday deflected criticisms from Gov. Butch Otter and legislative leaders on his office’s legal advice and said he will wait for “cooler heads to prevail” before seeking a dialogue to resolve disagreements.
The state’s top legal officer made the comments in a hourlong interview with the Idaho Statesman editorial board, in which he defended his positions on the status of nuclear waste at Idaho National Laboratory and on other contentious matters. Because of the various disagreements, both Otter and legislative leaders have suggested reversing the 20-year-old consolidation of the AG’s office and returning to the days when state agencies sought their own independent counsels.
Wasden said he still has not been contacted directly by the other parties to discuss any of the outstanding issues. He attributed some of the bad blood to policy disagreements that boiled over at the end of the legislative session that concluded March 25, but added that “a little bit of time will help heal some of these wounds.”
“If I run right in confronting them, that’s not healthy. It doesn’t work well in the end,” Wasden said. “Sometimes it’s a little better to give someone a little opportunity to cool off.”
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Chief among friction points, Wasden has irritated lawmakers for refusing to permit spent fuel rods to be sent to the Idaho National Laboratory for research. The lab’s operation is a sizable driver for the state economy and in Eastern Idaho in particular. Its 2015 report to a legislative committee cites INL as the state’s fifth-largest private employer responsible for $1.4 billion annually in direct and indirect economic output.
INL WASTE, CLEANUP, RESEARCH
Wasden has barred the shipment because the U.S. Department of Energy has thus far failed to live up to terms of a 1995 agreement for cleaning up 900,000 gallons of liquid radioactive waste.
In a separate meeting with the Statesman on Tuesday, Congressman Mike Simpson called Wasden’s opposition “unfathomable” and said DOE is doing everything it can to speed up the processing of waste. It has built the processing facility that will turn the liquid waste to a solid and now faces technological rather than bureaucratic delays.
“It’s not like they’re walking away from their responsibility,” the east Idaho Republican said.
Blocking the fuel rods won’t speed up processing or bring the treatment unit any closer to being operational, Simpson said. It penalizes the community by taking away potential jobs and revenues, but does not penalize DOE.
“That’s why ‘holding their feet to the fire’ isn’t holding their feet to the fire,” Simpson said. “All you’re doing is hurting the lab.”
OTHER COMPLAINTS WITH THE AG
The attorney general has maintained that lawmakers are occasionally upset because his office tells them not what they want to hear but what the law requires.
“I am sorry that people are upset. That’s not my goal,” he said. “But does that then mean that I should alter my delivery of advice? The answer is no.”
Among other areas of contention, Wasden has been criticized for his 2010 decision to sue the Land Board, a body on which he serves, for violations of the state Constitution. His standing to sue was upheld and he won the suit, but the effort has prompted calls that he be removed from the board for potential conflicts.
Wasden said Tuesday that any apparent conflict is nullified by the Idaho Constitution, which sets forth in law who serves on the board. That said, he suggested that all Land Board members — the governor, attorney general and three other statewide elected officials — have potential conflicts regardless of constitutional provisions and “should be removed from the land board” in favor of Senate-approved governor appointees.
He noted that the previous system of standalone legal representation for state agencies, as opposed to consolidated representation under the AG’s office, duplicated effort, was expensive and led to agencies suing one another in court.