Fed lawsuit pursues Nevada water

LAS VEGAS - The federal government has filed a lawsuit to overturn state Engineer Michael Turnipseed's decision to deny water rights for the construction of a nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain.

Federal attorneys from Washington, D.C., and Nevada drafted the complaint, which was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court.

State officials had promised legal battles if the federal government proceeded with its dump plans, and Nevada's elected officials over the past decade have confronted every attempt in Congress to bring the waste to Nevada for storage before a decision on the mountain's suitability is made.

The lawsuit seeks a declaration that Turnipseed's ruling violates the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which states that federal law ''shall be the supreme law of the land.'' The lawsuit seeks a declaration that the ruling ''is arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion.''

Turnipseed determined that the Energy Department's intended use for the water wasn't in the public interest, a point of view shared by the Nevada Nuclear Projects Agency and Citizen Alert, a statewide environmental group.

The federal lawsuit said Turnipseed's ruling conflicts with the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, as amended in 1987.

The lawsuit seeks a declaration that a Nevada law prohibiting the storage of high-level radioactive waste in Nevada, as applied by Turnipseed in his ruling, ''stands as an obstacle to the congressional mandate in the NWPA that the DOE continue activities related to the potential siting, construction and operation of a repository for storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain.''

Turnipseed rejected the Energy Department's permit applications to withdraw up to a total of 430 acre-feet of water per year from five wells in Nye County's Fortymile Canyon and Jackass Flat.

U.S. Sens. Richard Bryan and Harry Reid, both D-Nev., and Gov. Kenny Guinn predicted the case would end up in court. After Turnipseed announced his decision, Bryan said litigation over the matter ''should last for months, if not years ahead.''

The Yucca Mountain Project's existing permit to use water to study the mountain runs through March 2002.

Turnipseed issued the Energy Department a 10-year permit in March 1992 to pump about 95 acre-feet of water per year from an existing well near the site to conduct exploratory studies in the mountain.

The mountain, a volcanic-rock ridge 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, is the only site government scientists are studying to entomb the nation's high-level radioactive waste. If all hurdles that could disqualify the mountain are cleared, waste would not arrive until 2010.


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