Friday, July 7, 2006

Nuke waste, coal plants: twin concerns for candidates

Once again the federal government has been dragged out of its sluggishness and reminded of its solemn promise to remove tons of nuclear waste buried in Idaho.

Get with it, was the effective message of U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge in his decision reinforcing the 1995 agreement between Idaho and Washington requiring total removal of radioactive Cold War refuse buried near the Idaho National Laboratory in eastern Idaho.

This is becoming an unnecessary legal exercise—periodically going to court to prevent the federal Department of Energy from reneging on an agreement that should be clear to a first-year law student.

Previous governors have pledged to keep the heat on Washington, D.C., to clean up its mess.

But current major candidates for the governor's office—Republican C.L. "Butch" Otter, who's giving up his seat in Congress, and Democrat Jerry Brady, a longtime Idaho newspaper executive—have yet to take note on the campaign trail of the importance of ridding the state of this nuclear waste and making certain the federal government lives up to its word.

While at it, Otter and Brady also should express themselves on the other profoundly important long-range environmental issue the state must face—the impact of coal-fired coal plant emissions on Idaho's air and water.

State legislators declared a two-year moratorium on construction of any such plants while studies are conducted on the impact of emissions. Simultaneously, 33 state senators also have signed a letter urging Gov. Jim Risch, who will leave office upon the election of a new governor, to opt Idaho out of a federal program that would allow smokestack plants to traffic in emissions credits and open the way for coal plants here.

Otter and Brady should likewise declare themselves—preferably that they, too, are opposed to any loophole that would allow coal-fueled industries in the state.

If several governors have considered nuclear garbage buried in eastern Idaho to be a threat to health and the environment, surely Otter and Brady must conclude that plants spewing emissions that contain mercury could be just as deleterious to air and water.

Nothing is more vital to the well-being of Idaho's long-range interests than the protection of its people and their environment from toxic chemicals created by industry.

The best protection is to prevent emissions from the outset by banning the plants from even operating. That's a lesson that should be learned from allowing burial of nuclear waste years ago and now fighting after the fact to have it removed.

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