McKenna suit prods U.S. to keep its word

State Attorney General Rob McKenna is proving to be a problem for the Obama administration as it tries to shut down Yucca Mountain as a nuclear repository.

Rebuffed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in the state's original lawsuit over the administration's unilateral decision to abandon the site, the Republican attorney general looked to his law books and, guess what?

He's back.

On behalf of the state of Washington, he has filed a new lawsuit to force the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to consider the license application for the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository.

Maybe this time justice, not political expediency, will be served.

If not, it won't be for lack of McKenna's trying.

Tri-Citians are familiar with this long and frustrating game.

Hanford was once under consideration as a possible site for the nation's nuclear waste repository, and the community was divided over the issue.

Congress let Hanford off the hook when then-Sen. J. Bennett Johnston, chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, in a display of political power, singled out Nevada as the site.

So the nuclear waste program has been bothered by monkey business for a long time.

But despite steady complaints from Nevada, work began on studying Yucca Mountain as the site, as designated by law.

But with Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., taking over as Senate Majority Leader, Barack Obama promised, if elected, that the repository would not be located at Yucca Mountain.

Behold, after the election, the Department of Energy closed the site and asked to withdraw the license application it had submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

McKenna's new lawsuit seeks to compel the NRC to finish the licensing review for Yucca Mountain.

The court threw out the first McKenna suit because it was filed before the NRC review was finished. The new lawsuit, to tell the NRC to get on with its job, is a response to that earlier setback.

Obama's decision to remove Yucca Mountain from consideration and restart the site selection is bad news for the Northwest.

Not only does the move leave the nation's largest inventory of high-level nuclear waste stranded at Hanford, it also potentially puts Washington back in the running for a national repository.

It's crucial to the entire region that McKenna does all he can to force DOE to follow through on its license application for Yucca Mountain.

That is, after all, what Congress decided.

Adding weight to McKenna's case is the recent $48.7 million payment to settle Energy Northwest's lawsuit seeking compensation for having to store its own nuclear waste when the government promised it would take over the job at Yucca Mountain more than a decade ago.

That settlement partially covered Energy Northwest's costs from 1998 to August 2006.

Energy Northwest now has filed another suit asking to be paid storage costs since then.

It is only right that the power producers receive payments from the federal government.

But it is also astonishing that a nation struggling with its economy, as ours is, continues to pay hundreds of millions of dollars because it has decided, for political reasons, not to keep its word -- or obey the laws of Congress.

And those expenses are on top of the billions of dollars spent in Nevada.

Is it all going to be chalked up to one of the sleaziest chapters in political history, played out endlessly across the years?