Thursday, March 30, 2000

Thomas vows to continue monitoring incinerator issue

WASHINGTON (AP) - A congressional hearing on a proposed nuclear waste incinerator near Wyoming's border has been canceled now that the project has been dropped, Sen. Craig Thomas said on Tuesday.

Monday's announcement by the U.S. Energy Department that a settlement with environmental groups had been reached and that other alternatives would be sought removed the need for the April 6 hearing before the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks, said Thomas, R-Wyo.

"I was prepared to go forward with witnesses right up until final negotiations appeared to be successful early Monday," he said. "The Department of Energy and other administration witnesses were reticent to face Congress publicly and explain plans for the waste incineration project so near the parks. I'm pleased they chose to seek an alternative instead."

Critics feared that toxic particles from the proposed incinerator at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory would drift into Wyoming and its national parks, Yellowstone and Grand Teton, and lace the land and water with PCBs and radiation.

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said he agreed to commission a panel to study technological alternatives to burning nuclear waste nationwide.

Thomas, who began contacting the Energy Department and other officials last July to press for an alternative, said he will be watching closely. He reserved the right to again pursue a hearing should the recommendations of the panel not meet the charge of finding other options.

The settlement came late Sunday when five groups agreed to drop a lawsuit alleging the agency had not followed environmental law in its decision to build the plant.

The groups included Jackson-based Keep Yellowstone Nuclear Free, the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, the Snake River Alliance, the Environmental Defense Institute and the Sierra Club.