Our Voice: Lawsuits can be obstacles to Hanford cleanup efforts

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson strongly oppose the suggestion that it is a bad idea to use lawsuits as a way to force the Department of Energy to meet its Hanford cleanup deadlines.

And while their frustration with DOE is understandable, they must know going to court does not move cleanup efforts any faster.

In fact, it likely has the opposite effect.

A new study ordered by Congress echoed this sentiment and recommends prohibiting the use of consent decrees to enforce deadlines set by the Tri-Party Agreement.

This is a game-changing notion that naturally has raised the ire of Inslee and Ferguson. Suing DOE, as of late, has been their go-to method when they feel they have no other way to hold the federal agency accountable.

But lawsuits are not the best tool.

U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., recently told the Tri-City Herald that the antagonism between the state and DOE may make it harder for our own congressional leaders to continue to get the Hanford cleanup funding we need.

Other lawmakers outside the region, seeing the discord, may be tempted to wait until the lawsuits have played out before agreeing to spend more money on the Hanford site.

This would be disastrous, and would further delay cleanup efforts.

Lawsuits also are expensive. Taxpayers end up paying lawyers to sue DOE as well as defend it. Meanwhile, money that should be going to Hanford cleanup ends up diverted to pay court costs.

This is not a good use of public money.

The report that recommends stripping the state from its ability to sue DOE was conducted by the Omnibus Review Committee, which was organized by the Consortium for Risk Evaluation and Stakeholder Participation, or CRESP.

The multi-university consortium includes technical, engineering, scientific and policy experts from Vanderbilt University, New York University School of Law, Oregon State University and several others.

DOE has not held to a cleanup schedule yet, so any assurance it can keep on track without deadline pressure is hard to believe. Time and again, it has missed its milestones and discussions with the state have collapsed.

It is no wonder Inslee and Ferguson are concerned. State and local officials must have a strong say in the cleanup process.

And yet, filing lawsuits does not get Hanford cleaned up any faster.

There must be a better way for the state to push its important agenda than fighting with DOE.

It is going to take great leadership on both sides to get past this contentious relationship and move forward. The present situation simply does not work.