LINCOLN, NEB. Before Nebraska made its offer to settle a lawsuit accusing the state of blocking a nuclear waste dump from being built within its borders, the Ponca Tribe offered to host the facility.
Mark Peniska, chairman of the Ponca tribe, said he met with Nebraska Atty. Gen. Jon Bruning and Gov. Mike Johanns to propose that the Ponca tribe take over the proposed site for the dump in Boyd County. The tribe would have put the site into trust so that it would not be subject to state regulation, and then would have built a waste site regulated by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Tribal attorney Ed Zendejas said the proposal would have meant $30 million for the tribe in a 30-year period.
On Monday, Nebraska agreed to pay $141 million for blocking efforts to build a regional low-level radioactive waste dump within its borders. The dump was to be built in Boyd County in the northeast part of the state.
Other members of the Central Interstate Low-Level Radioactive Waste Compact -- Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana -- voted 3-1 to accept the settlement.
The settlement ended a lawsuit in which U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf in Lincoln ruled that former Nebraska Gov. Ben Nelson, now a U.S. senator, engaged in a politically motivated and orchestrated plot to keep the dump from being built in Nebraska. Kopf ordered Nebraska to pay $151 million.
Zendejas said the tribe's offer was based on the compact remaining interested in the Boyd County site and Nebraska perhaps facing a lower financial penalty because the facility would be placed in the state.
Peniska said the state missed out on a good deal.
"Politically, culturally, I think if you have a tribe that can do something, be involved in this, and take care of Mother Earth, I think we'd be much better caretakers of our Mother Earth than maybe some other people," Peniska said.
Johanns said he met with tribal officials in July and discussed with the commission the possibility of building a waste facility in Nebraska. But discussions with the commission didn't specifically include reviving the Boyd County site as the Ponca proposed, Johanns said.
"The concept we discussed with the commission was not individual offers. ... And whether it was this site or any other site, they pretty well splashed cold water on it," Johanns said.
The environmental studies of the proposed site in Boyd County didn't give that site an advantage because the data is getting old, Johanns said.
With the tribe's offer for low-level radioactive waste now moot, Peniska said he was interested in exploring the possibility of accepting high-level waste.
Johanns said he respects the Ponca tribe's sovereignty, but high-level waste proposals by the tribe would be a matter of great concern.