Spence will sue over proposed nuclear incinerator in Idaho

Friday, September 03, 1999

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) - Famous attorney Gerry Spence said he plans to sue the U.S. Department of Energy to try to stop a proposed nuclear waste incinerator from being built in southeastern Idaho.

Spence said he and four environmental lawyers whom he chose from across the country will file the lawsuit in Idaho federal court within the next several weeks. He met with the lawyers at his Jackson home Tuesday.

The team will challenge the science used to study the environmental impacts of the incinerator and the exclusion of Wyoming from the study, Spence said Thursday.

The incinerator is being proposed 80 miles west of Jackson at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory near Idaho Falls, Idaho.

Jackson residents fear the incinerator will emit hazardous particles into the air and create health problems. Idaho officials have said the incinerator poses no health threats.

Spence said the Department of Energy broke the law by failing to study the environmental impacts of the incinerator on Wyoming.

The department "forgets these particles don't stop when they hit the state line. They don't take into account anything in Wyoming," Spence said.

The Idaho Division of Environmental Quality 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 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.

Spence said the plaintiffs have not yet been chosen but will be a variety of groups and individuals from Idaho and Wyoming.

Last week in Jackson, Spence rallied pledges of about $500,000 from opponents for a legal battle he says will cost about $1 million to fight.

The action prompted Gov. Jim Geringer to say recently that he thinks Spence is playing on the fears and ignorance of people in his effort to raise money for litigation.

Spence defended his legal actions, but said he is grateful that Geringer and U.S. Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., also oppose the incinerator.