25-Aug-1999 09:41

Spence raises nearly 500,000 to fight proposed Idaho nuclear burner

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) - Attorney Gerry Spence rallied promises of nearly 00,000 from a packed audience Tuesday night to fight a proposed nuclear waste incinerator in Idaho, the Jackson Hole News reported.

"We're citizens and we're entitled to be heard and if they don't respect it, I am going to sue them," he said to roaring applause from a crowd of at least 500 people.

Spence threatened to sue the Idaho Division of Environmental Quality if it does not extend a public comment deadline on an air permit for the proposal at the Idaho National Environmental and Engineering Laboratory in Idaho Falls, about 80 miles west of Jackson.

Spence and two other Jackson residents filed a petition in June to extend the comment period. The Idaho DEQ has so far refused, saying it has no jurisdiction or responsibility for Wyoming.

Striding up and down the Walk Festival Hall at Teton Village, Spence spent three hours taking pledges for the group "Keep Yellowstone Nuclear Free."

Wearing a black cowboy hat, jeans and his trademark fringed suede jacket, Spence said he would work for free on the legal battle that he expects will cost at least million.

"I'm not going to leave here tonight until I've gotten everyone I can to stand up here and tell their name and tell how much they will give to the cause," he said.

Donors included movie actor Harrison Ford, who did not attend the meeting but pledged the first 0,000. Spence drew pledges as large as 3,299 from Jackson philanthropist Bill Newton and smaller donations from people including a skier who said he had been saving his last 8 for a ski pass until that night.

Spence successfully represented the estate of Karen Silkwood against nuclear giant Kerr-McGee.

The Idaho DEQ already has issued a draft permit that could allow British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. - the U.S. Energy Department contractor on the project - to begin building the .2 billion plant as soon as this fall. The permit sets limits for more than a dozen emissions, ranging from carbon monoxide and radionuclides to lead and arsenic.

The facility, which would condense and reduce the amount of waste to be trucked to a storage center in New Mexico, still needs final approval of a state hazardous waste permit and a federal permit to burn toxic substances.

U.S. Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., said last week the U.S. Department of Energy and Idaho officials will participate in the Wyoming hearing, which will be scheduled for sometime this fall.