From: Annette Cary, Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, Wash.
Published October 6, 2004 12:00 AM

Oregon Tribes to Join Proposed Environmental Harm Lawsuit Against DOE

Oct. 6—The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation has notified the Department of Energy that it intends to join a suit proposed by the states of Washington and Oregon.

In July the two states notified the federal government that they intended to sue DOE if it does not assess environmental harm caused by past plutonium production at Hanford. The states were required to give DOE 60 days notice before filing suit but have not sued yet.

"We have had discussions with Energy and have not waived any of our options at the moment," said Gary Larson, spokesman for the Washington State Office of the Attorney General.

The federal Superfund law covering sites where hazardous wastes have been released requires that an assessment of harm to natural resources be completed.

The tribes "are not asking for money damages," said Armand Minthorn, a member of the board that governs the tribes, in a prepared statement. "We are asking the court to order the Department of Energy to openly assess the environmental harm at Hanford."

Only when the extent of damage to plants and animals from Hanford pollution is know, can plans be developed to restore resources, he said.

The states agree that a thorough assessment of damages would help make better decisions about cleanup work. But DOE has argued that damages should not be assessed while it still is cleaning up the nuclear reservation.

For more than 40 years, radioactive materials were released to the air, the Columbia River and to shallow ponds on the Hanford site, say the confederated tribes, which include the Umatilla, Cayuse and Walla Walla people.

Scientists for the tribes believe contamination of the Columbia River with radioactive waste and other hazardous substances from Hanford could be contributing to the decline in Northwest salmon populations.

The tribes say they own treaty rights to use natural resources on Hanford and other historic tribal lands, including fishing, hunting and gathering traditional foods and medicines.

The Yakama Nation filed a similar suit in federal court in 2002. The suit proposed by Washington, Oregon and the tribes could be joined with the Yakama suit.

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