Environmentalists praise Gregoire for raising concerns about Areva plant

OLYMPIA - A collection of environmental groups is asking its supporters to thank Gov. Chris Gregoire "for standing up for our health, safety and our environment by raising concerns over nuclear wastes from a uranium enrichment plant," once proposed for Richland.

In May, the French company Areva announced that it would build its $2 billion project in Idaho. A subsequent Herald report found the company, through the Tri-City Development Council, had sought Gregoire's personal involvement in the recruitment effort but instead found what was thought by supporters to be only tepid support - a factor her office was warned would loom large in the company's decision.

Gregoire's office was concerned about what would happen to the low-level waste the plant would generate.

Since Areva announced its decision Gregoire has taken fire from Republican rival Dino Rossi and the state Republican Party, who are using it to bolster Rossi's gubernatorial campaign.

This week, a group called Priorities for a Healthy Washington sent a note to supporters with the heading "Don't Dump on Washington!" asking that they e-mail the governor's office to offer support.

"Given the challenges our state already faces, with nuclear waste at the Hanford Reservation making it the most contaminated area in the western hemisphere, we think it is good government to ask questions about dumping more waste in our state!" the e-mail to supporters read.

It went on to read that "Governor Gregoire is now under attack, by the nuclear industry backers, Tri-City Herald and others for Areva's decision to build the plant in Idaho."

The group is made up of 23 organizations, including Hanford watchdog Heart of America Northwest - which opposed the Areva plant - the Northwest Energy Coalition and the Washington Environmental Council. It primarily exists to establish a narrow list of the environmental community's top priorities before the Legislature.

But it also occasionally engages supporters on select issues when the Legislature is not in session. Heart of America suggested addressing the Areva issue, provided draft language and "I think there was buy-in from everyone," said Tom Geiger of the Washington Environmental Council, who edits the electronic messages.

"The collective thinking is it seems like there's a negative feeling being translated to the governor that this plant being not sited in the Tri-Cities was a bad thing and she's to blame," Geiger said. "We collectively didn't agree with that."