Incinerator foes abandon panel 

Good news: A proposed nuclear incinerator site at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Lab, equidistant from Missoula and Yellowstone National Park, appears to be shelved for the forseeable future. Bad news: The group that sued the Department of Energy (DOE) to put a stop to the plan, the Jackson, Wyo.-based Keep Yellowstone Nuclear Free (KYNF), has walked away from the federally appointed panel which was to explore alternatives to incineration.

The panel, which was created as part of a settlement agreement between the Department of Energy and KYNF, had come under fire from the opponents of the incinerator in recent weeks. Allegations of bias in the selection of members to the panel, as well as changes in the number of panel members, prompted the decision.

KYNF spokesman Tom Patricelli minced no words in defending the move, which could eventually drag the two sides back into court. It stems back, he says, to an April 26 letter KYNF sent to Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, outlining the group’s concerns with the selection process and postponing the nomination of a single panel member until their concerns were addressed.

“The DOE had the letter outlining our complaints for two months, and we get a response two days before the first panel meeting takes place,” Patricelli says. “Any trust we had at the time of the settlement is out the window.”

The DOE, for its part, is claiming it has lived up to the terms of the settlement, although in a somewhat tight-lipped fashion. Regional DOE spokesman Brad Bugger deferred to a copy of a letter his agency sent to KYNF on June 20, written by DOE General Counsel Mary Anne Sullivan: “Your letter raises several concerns about the panel and its membership,” Sullivan wrote. “The Secretary decided to increase the number of members from seven to nine in order to broaden the expertise of the panel. … He also believed that it was necessary to include a member who had experience in identifying ways to insure the public was aware of and could find information on the panel’s work.”

KYNF director Erik Ringelberg echoed the sentiments of Patricelli, calling for more broad-based citizen involvement. “We have some assets in this case that most grassroots groups don’t,” said Ringelberg, citing the deep pockets of Jackson residents, including outspoken lead attorney for KYNF, Gerry Spence. “But we’re really missing the support of a community like Missoula.”

“We’ll be watching the panel,” said Patricelli, noting the settlement agreement provides for a quick and easy refiling of the original lawsuit. “As soon as they so much as mention incineration, we’ll have them back in court so fast it will make their bureaucratic heads spin.”

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