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Archive for Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Settlement plans reported in dispute over nuclear waste site

June 8, 2004

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— Nebraska might be nearing a settlement in the case in which it has been ordered to pay $151 million for blocking construction of nuclear waste dump within its borders, The Associated Press has learned.

Nebraska's representative to the Central Interstate Nuclear Waste Compact Commission told the AP on Monday that his counterparts from Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana are scheduled to go into executive session to discuss a possible settlement today at an annual meeting in Lincoln.

"I'm out of the process. But ... I will bring books along because they will go into executive session most of the day -- without me," Greg Hayden said.

Shawn Renner, one of the compact's lawyers, only would say that an executive session was planned.

"There is going to be an executive session ... in which litigation will be discussed," he said. "And that includes the bad-faith litigation ... that the state has indicted that it's trying to settle."

Nebraska has found itself running short on options to avoid paying the $151 million judgment it was ordered to pay for acting in bad faith in blocking the facility.

Lawmakers have been battling an ongoing budget crisis and have thus far been unable to agree on a way to pay the settlement. One possibility of reducing or eliminating the judgment would be to allow the dump to be built in Nebraska.

Calls to Atty. Gen. Jon Bruning's office seeking comment were not immediately returned.

In April, the full 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Nebraska's request to rehear the case and an appeal of the judgment.

Earlier, a three-judge 8th Circuit panel upheld a 2002 ruling by U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf of Lincoln that the state acted in bad faith to block the compact from building the dump in Nebraska.

Kopf ruled that former 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 said Nelson's office directly interfered with the regulatory process.

Nebraska officials argued that they refused to license the dump in 1998 because of pollution concerns.

The appeals court rejected those claims, saying Nelson had campaigned on a pledge to block construction of the disposal facility.

Nebraska officials have not said whether they plan to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, although Gov. Mike Johanns has said he would prefer to settle the case out of court.

Renner would not say whether Nebraska has made a settlement offer.

"I'm not at liberty to talk about what has happened or what hasn't happened," he said.

It's been nearly a year since the other members of the compact voted to kick Nebraska out of the group. That decision to kick Nebraska out has been appealed to Kopf.

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