Tag Archives: nuclear waste

Was the Judge who Threw Out Initiative-297 Really Unbiased?

US District Judge Alan McDonald in Yakima yesterday threw out I-297 . I-297 was passed by Washington voters in 2004 to require that current radioactive and toxic waste at Hanford be cleanup before new waste is brought in.

But is there more to the story than just the ruling on the law? Just what is the background of Judge Alan Angus McDonald – a Reagan appointee to the Federal District Court in Yakima.

The Seattle Times in a March 12, 2003 article reported that McDonald withdraw from a 13 year old lawsuit regarding downwind radiation from Hanford because of a conflict of interest. The reason was , “Old McDonald had a farm” I kid you not.
According to the Seattle Times:

In October 1999, McDonald and his partners in Chiawana Orchards bought land in Ringold, Franklin County, across the Columbia River from Hanford.

In May 2001, McDonald and his partners applied to Northwest Farm Credit Services in Pasco for a $12 million line of credit, using the land as collateral and signing statements that the orchard was free of radiation contamination.

To make such a statement “requires a core conviction by Judge McDonald that no long-lasting contamination of the properties will ever be proved,” Seattle attorney Tom Foulds wrote late last year in his motion to recuse.

By definition, this is a prejudgment concerning one of the critical issues in the case.” Judicial conduct codes call for judges to recuse themselves from cases if they could reasonably be perceived by the public to be lacking in impartiality or if they have a direct financial interest in a case.

Likewise in this case one could argue that if McDonald supported the state’s position it would be some type of acknowledgement, that leaks through groudwater or the air of radioactive waste was a potential problem. By defering to the Federal Government, saying they have jurisdiction over radioactive waste at Hanford, it by default accepts the Federal Government’s position that they have everything under control and that it is OK to bring more radioactive waste into Washington state before they clean up the current toxic and radioactive leaks.

Hanford, which is in the Tri-Cities area of eastern Washington State was the site where plutonium was made for the bomb that was used on Nagasaki, Japan at the end of WWII. At that time radioactive waste was dumped in unlined trenches in the desert land and little effort was made to control radioactive emissions from the smokestacks.

Articles printed in scientific journals noted the presence of increased amounts of radioactive materials traveling down the Columbia River and showing up at the mouth of the Columbia River. Weapons grade Plutonium was made for many years at Hanford.

The High Country News on 2/16/2004 in an article on jurisdiction shopping for anti-environmental judges, in addition noted the following about cases handled by Judge Alan Angus McDonald:

1991 — when a worker at the federal Hanford nuclear-weapons site complained he was harassed for raising safety concerns, McDonald ruled that federal law doesn’t protect whistle-blowers at federal nuclear sites
1993 — in a massive case in which thousands of downwind residents exposed to radioactive releases from Hanford sued Hanford contractors, ruled the contractors did not have to pay for medical tests (appeals court disagreed) 1994 — ordered that a scientific review finding flaws in the government’s assessment of Hanford’s downwind radioactivity should not be available to the public (another judge disagreed and made the criticism public, nine years later)
1996 — ruled that uranium tailings are not covered by the Clean Water Act and EPA regulations (appeals court agreed)
1998 and 1999 — in two sweeping rulings, dismissed most of the health-related claims of about 5,500Hanford downwinders against Hanford contractors, and rejected 17 scientific experts the downwinders wanted to testify (appeals court reinstated all the claims and the experts in 2002)
2000 — reporter Karen Dorn Steele of the Spokesman-Review revealed that for years, Judge McDonald had been passing racist notes (including insults to “greasers” and blacks) back and forth with his courtroom deputy while court was in session; fellow judges in the judicial council of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reprimanded McDonald for conduct that “could reasonably be interpreted as reflecting bias”

Justice Alan McDonald was first appointed to the Federal Court by President Ronald Reagan.

Washington State Initiative 297 Overturned – Here Comes the Nuclear Waste Again!

Yesterday the US District Court completely threw out the Hanford nuclear waste cleanup initiative – Initiative 297 in its entirety. Voters passed Initiative 297 in November 2004 by the largest margin ever of Washington voters, according to the Seattle PI. I-297 passed by a vote of 1,812,581 votes to 810,795 votes, or 69.09% yes to 30.91% no .

Initiative 297 was passed by Washington State voters to prohibit the Federal Government from shipping more nuclear waste to Hanford until it cleaned up the present contamination there according to existing Federal and state environmental cleanup standards.

What is disturbing about this case of judicial activism if I ever saw one is that US District Judge Alan McDonald in Yakima threw out the whole initiative. As noted in the Settle PI, “Last July, Washington’s Supreme Court ruled that parts of the initiative, sponsored by Hanford watchdog group Heart of America Northwest, could stand even if a federal judge finds other parts are unconstitutional. McDonald, however, struck it down in its entirety.”

The result is that the Federal Court is saying that states have no rights in determining the future health and safety of their citizens. It is saying that states can not put any demands on the Federal Government, even if the Federal Government’s actions put them at severe risk.

As a reminder of what citizens voted for , here is the ballot summary of I-297:

This measure would establish additional requirements for regulating “mixed waste”(radioactive and nonradioactive hazardous substances) sites, such as the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The measure would set standards for cleanup and granting permits, would prohibit waste disposal in unlined soil trenches, and require cleanup of tank leaks. Permits would not allow adding more wastes to facilities until existing contamination was cleaned up. Additional public participation would be provided and enforcement through citizen lawsuits would be authorized.”

This is pretty radical, right – the state saying that nuclear waste disposal can not be permitted in unlined soil trenches and that leaks of radioactive and toxic material must be cleaned up. And how about saying before you can bring more wastes into the state you must cleanup existing waste, pretty radical.

But Judge McDonald threw everything out – even though Hanford is listed as the US’s most contaminated nuclear waste site and a radioactive plume of waste is heading towards the Columbia River!

By the way Judge Alan McDonald was appointed by Ronald Reagan to the US District Court.

Secretary of State’s website – Initiative 297 text
Eric Pryne in Seattle Times “Federal Judge strikes down Hanford nuclear waste initiative.”
Shannon Dininny in Seattle PI Judge strikes down voters’ ban on Hanford waste shipments.