JANUARY, 1993 TO JULY, 1997

January 1993

Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt rescinds former Secretary Lujan's approval of the Ward Valley land sale to California and orders the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS).

August 1993

Secretary Babbitt asks California Governor Wilson to hold one more hearing to help him in his decision on the Ward Valley land sale. Babbitt states his intention to reach a decision by the end of 1993.

September 1993

On September 16th, the California Department of Health Services (DHS) issues a license to US Ecology, Inc. to construct and operate a low-level radioactive waste (LLRW) disposal facility at Ward Valley (pending the federal land transfer) and certifies the Environmental Impact Report. Governor Wilson agrees to Secretary Babbitt's request to hold one more hearing on environmental issues related to the Ward Valley land transfer.

On September 24th, BLM issues a very favorable Final SEIS which includes the following findings:

"The results of these independent studies and the radiological pathways analyses, reflected in the joint BLM and DHS Final EIR/EIS, indicate that the Ward Valley facility will meet or exceed all environmental health standards with no contamination of ground or surface water." (Final SEIS, page 11.)

"Waste form and packaging requirements, waste classification limits, thick trench covers and runoff systems, facility operating procedures, and other factors will combine with the 650 foot depth to protect the underlying ground water from contamination for the duration of waste hazard at the facility." (Final SEIS, page 12.)

October 1993

Ward Valley opponents challenge the license and EIR certification in state court in Los Angeles.

November 1993

Secretary Babbitt cancels the hearing he requested in August. He offers the excuse that opponents' lawsuit includes a challenge to the hearing procedures used by the DHS in its licensing process and that the trial court might therefore order DHS to hold hearings even more comprehensive than the hearing requested by the Secretary. This excuse ignores the ruling of a state appellate court the previous May, in another lawsuit, upholding the DHS hearing procedures. Circumstances suggest the hearing was canceled by order of the White House at the request of California Senator Barbara Boxer.

February 1994

The trial court grants DHS motion for summary judgment and upholds DHS hearing procedures; the excuse for canceling the "Babbitt hearing" evaporates.

March 1994

Interior Secretary Babbitt asks the Board on Radioactive Waste Management of the National Academy of Sciences to review criticisms of the Ward Valley site in the so-called "Wilshire Report" and to issue a report after December 1, 1994.


At various times in 1994, the (Democratic) Chairmen of several congressional committees and subcommittees with oversight criticize the Clinton administration's handling of the Ward Valley land conveyance. They include Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (LA), and Representatives Philip Sharp (IN), Richard Lehman (CA), and John Dingell (MI). Mr. Dingell, who was chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, wrote to the President on May 2, 1994: "I have found the actions of the administration, with respect to the California siting process, troubling. The purpose in establishing the current system was to avoid the intrusion of the federal government in the siting process."

May 1995

NAS issues report highly favorable to the Ward Valley site:

"…the potential transfer of contaminants through the unsaturated zone to the water table is highly unlikely. In the report we discuss a number of aspects of this potential transfer, and in none of these cases could we find a likely mechanism that would allow contaminants to reach the water table.…We believe it highly unlikely that significant amounts of radioactive material from the site would reach the ground water or the Colorado River."

Secretary Babbitt says land sale would be in the public interest and states his intention to sell the land to California:

"I've never believed that being an environmentalist means saying "no" to necessity. The National Academy of Sciences says it's safe, so I'm prepared to go ahead with it."

The majority report (17 of 19 members of the panel) recommend additional testing and monitoring during construction and operation of the disposal facility. Two members file a minority report recommending additional testing prior to the land transfer. (Both dissenters were nominated to the panel by Ward Valley opponents.)

The Department of the Interior (DOI) requests a "binding commitment" from the State of California to implement recommendations of the NAS plus new DOI requirements with DOI to have permanent enforcement role with recourse to the courts. State resists these requirements because DOI lacks both expertise and statutory basis to usurp California's agreement state authority or the authority of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to regulate radiological health and safety under the Atomic Energy Act.

August 1995

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues a second Biological Opinion concluding that construction and operation of the Ward Valley disposal facility "…is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the desert tortoise or result in the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat."

September 1995

When DOI refuses to yield on its demand for an enforcement role at Ward Valley, Governor Wilson asks Congress for legislative conveyance of the Ward Valley land.

October 1995

Deputy Interior Secretary John Garamendi issues a press statement saying that California cannot be trusted ("'Trust us' will not suffice") and warning against "legislative end runs."

California appellate court upholds the Ward Valley license and certification of the EIR saying that opponents' claims are "without merit."

November 1995

Congress places Ward Valley conveyance in Budget Reconciliation Bill.

December 1995

President Clinton vetoes the Budget Reconciliation Bill. Regarding Ward Valley, the President — ignoring the extensive regulatory scheme including federal and state regulations and state license conditions — says the land conveyance would be "without public safeguards."

Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary, responding to a request from Senator Barbara Boxer that the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory perform tests at the Ward Valley site, says "We believe the State of California, in its licensing role as authorized by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, should determine how to implement the National Academy of Sciences recommendation."

January 1996

The California Supreme Court denies an appeal by Ward Valley opponents challenging the Appellate Court ruling upholding the Ward Valley license and EIR certification.

February 1996

Interior Deputy Secretary Garamendi announces that a decision on the sale of the Ward Valley lands will be postponed until after the November election. Interior asks DOE and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to undertake further testing at the Ward Valley site and says it will prepare yet another Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. All this will take one year. Deputy Secretary Garamendi argues that recent findings of radionuclide migration (tritium and carbon-14) at the Beatty, Nevada disposal facility require the new SEIS and additional testing. But the Director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) says, in a letter (February 14, 1996) to the California State Director of the BLM:

"Because of the differences in waste-burial practices at the Beatty site compared to those intended for the Ward Valley site, and the previously mentioned uncertainties about the transport mechanisms at Beatty, extrapolations of the results from Beatty to Ward Valley are too tenuous to have much scientific value." (Emphasis added.)

The San Jose Mercury News editorializes: "The federal government is obstructing years of careful planning by the state and is perpetuating a huge waste of public funds. It is perpetuating scientific ignorance in a cynical effort to study the War Valley dump to death."

The State of California vigorously argues there is no legal or public policy justification for a new SEIS.

Senator Frank Murkowski, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and seven Congressmen, including five from California, ask the U.S. General Accounting Office to investigate Interior's handling of California's Ward Valley land purchase request.

March 1996

California Department of Health Services requests "...the participation of DOE on a Ward Valley environmental monitoring committee to be established by DHS once the land is transferred to the state."

Interior ignores prerogatives of USNRC and the Congress and suggests that utility waste be stored at a decommissioned nuclear power plant in California.

May 1996

DOE agrees to play the role scripted by Interior. DOE says Secretary O'Leary's policy statement of December 15, 1995, "We believe the State of California, in its licensing role as authorized by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, should determine how to implement the National Academy of Sciences recommendation" applies only under the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act. If Interior requests assistance under the Economy Act or "work for others" provision of the Atomic Energy Act, DOE can provide a different policy which offers assistance! DOE also announces that neither it or the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory will be responsible for interpreting data resulting from analyses of samples taken at the site.

Interior announces a 45-day scoping period and scoping workshops for preparation of a new SEIS. Governor Wilson issues press release criticizing Interior: "The standard for determining if an SEIS is needed is whether significant new information or significant new environmental impacts have surfaced which had not been previously considered. The Ward Valley land transfer has already been thoroughly analyzed with complete public input through the initial 1991 and supplemental 1993 Environmental Impact Statements," said the Governor.

In a memo to the BLM, the USGS says it will not write Interior's new SEIS nor play a major role in the new field tests.

In a letter to the California Congressional delegation, the Presidents of the California Institute of Technology, Stanford University, the University of California and the University of Southern California support the Ward Valley land conveyance legislation introduced by Senators Murkowski and Johnston. Similar letters of support are sent by the Presidents of the University of Arizona and the University of South Dakota.

June 1996

Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary, while in California, publicly chides Interior for "inappropriately" volunteering DOE to do tests at Ward Valley and reiterates her view that, without a request from the State of California, DOE could not perform the tests that Interior wants done.

December 1996

Interior releases a Request for Proposal for a private firm to prepare the new SEIS for Ward Valley.

January 1997

Governor Wilson announces that California will proceed to do additional tests at the Ward Valley site which the NAS had recommended be done during construction and operation of the disposal facility. The Governor also announces that California will file a writ of mandate in federal court in the District of Columbia to secure the land transfer. US Ecology announces that it will also seek to obtain the land sale in federal court and that it, in addition, it will sue the Department of the Interior in the Court of Contract Claims to recover its costs on the Ward Valley project.

The Department of the Interior surprises DHS, US Ecology, and the Sacramento office of the BLM when it advises California that existing permits at Ward Valley are not adequate to carry out new tests. BLM says that DHS will have to request a new permit and also request the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to undertake another (the third) biological opinion on the desert tortoise.

June 1997

DOE refuses to acknowledge California's request for technical assistance with additional tests at Ward Valley. DOE officials confirm former Secretary O'Leary's policy has been reversed. Under the new policy, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory may not respond to the State's request for technical assistance, it may only work for the Department of Interior at Ward Valley.