Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Obama lacks authority to shutter Yucca site, court told

Lawyers for Washington state and South Carolina on Tuesday accused President Barack Obama of exceeding his constitutional power in closing the Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste repository.

Washington state Assistant Attorney General Andrew Fitz told a federal appellate court that Obama's refusal to fund continued development of the Nevada site violates the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act.

"He's acting unconstitutionally under the separation of powers doctrine because he doesn't have the authority under the statute," Fitz told a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. "He had no authority to reverse it."

In 1987 amendments to the nuclear-waste law, Congress designated Yucca Mountain as the central site for radioactive debris from the nation's 104 commercial reactors - and from nuclear-weapons sites that have held even more toxic waste since the Cold War.

The government has spent $10 billion developing the Yucca site, but Obama has stripped funding for it from his last two budget proposals to Congress.

Republicans, who have proposed legislation to revive the repository, accuse Obama of making a political gesture to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, whose residents dislike the notion of burying radioactive debris from across the country at a subterranean site 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Washington, home to the Hanford nuclear reservation in the eastern part of the state, and South Carolina, which hosts the Savannah River Site on its border with Georgia, sued Obama. Aiken County, S.C., where Savannah River is located, and three businessmen in Washington state joined the lawsuit.

Other large former nuclear-weapons complexes include the Idaho National Laboratory and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

Chief Judge David Sentelle and Judge Brett Cavanaugh repeatedly challenged Fitz on whether the lawsuit by Washington and South Carolina is premature.

Sentelle and Cavanaugh said three administrative judges in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in June rejected a bid by Energy Secretary Steven Chu to withdraw the Energy Department license to build and operate the Yucca repository.

The case has been before the NRC since then, with no indication of when the full commission will rule on the license withdrawal.

The judges and lawyers didn't address the merits of the case, avoiding the complex scientific and environmental issues tied to the Yucca site.

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson echoed Fitz's courtroom claims in comments after the hearing.

"The government's decision to arbitrarily break federal law and derail Yucca Mountain is wrong and unconstitutional," Wilson said. "Congress passed laws to build Yucca Mountain as a safe repository for America's nuclear waste."

At Obama's direction, Chu set up the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future in January 2010 and gave it two years to come up with an alternative to drilling deep tunnels beneath Yucca for nuclear -waste disposal.

"Nuclear-waste storage at Yucca Mountain is not an option," said Lee Hamilton, the commision's co-chairman and a former Indiana congressman. "The commission will be looking at better alternatives."

Monday, March 7, 2011

Putting the 'world' back into WGC

WHEN THE top four players in the world rankings and 10 of the top-20 are European, it seems a little incongruous that a World Golf Championship (WGC) event hasn’t been played on European soil since 2006, when Tiger Woods won the American Express Championship at The Grove.

But world number four Graeme McDowell, who is among the favourites for this week’s WGC Cadillac Championship over the famed TPC Blue Monster at Doral, Florida, acknowledges that finding alternative venues outside the US creates a logistical nightmare for the players and the International Federation of PGA Tours.

The demise of the World Cup as a WGC event and the promotion of the HSBC Champions in Shanghai to WGC status at the end of 2009 means three of the four events in the series are now staged in the US.

Yet despite that move, and with 33 of the world’s top-50 hailing from outside the US, the grumbling about a US-centric golfing world goes on.

Just two weeks after the Accenture Matchplay in Tucson, and with the WGC Bridgestone Invitational set for Firestone Country Club in Ohio the week before the US PGA Championship in August, finding a non-US venue is a headache that won’t go away any time soon.

McDowell is not a fan of the course at Dove Mountain, where he was ousted from the matchplay in the third round just two weeks ago.

Tucson’s four-year contract is up, but while the event still appears likely to go ahead there again next year, McDowell sees no way of moving it out of the US in the near future.

“My feelings are that the matchplay is the wrong one to do that with,” McDowell said of a possible move to Australia, Europe or Asia. “It is a long way to fly to China to get beaten in the first round.

“Of course, Tucson is a long way to go for everyone, but at least you have Los Angeles the week before and the Florida swing the week afterwards.

“A lot of the top-50 in the world will be going on to play the Florida swing anyway.

“Having the matchplay in the States makes geographical sense, but with the international flavour of golf right now it is important that the WGCs become world events.”

Making that happen will be difficult in the extreme with the PGA Tour about to enter negotiations on a new television contract, with the current one due to expire next year.

Attracting major sponsors is increasingly difficult and staging an event outside US prime time TV slots is not attractive to the powers at Ponte Vedra Beach.

“It’s pretty hard when you start thinking about it as an overall schedule,” McDowell said. “Scheduling is a problem because you have got to think about WGCs as top-50 events and the guys in the top-50 are going straight to the majors.

“It’s difficult to take them anywhere else.

“Maybe they could turn the likes of the Scottish Open into a WGC, the week before the British Open. It’s tough to get the blend right.

“But there seems to be a kind of rivalry there between the tours. I understand the PGA Tour want to protect themselves and their members, and so do the European Tour. It is the eternal debate and it is tough to get it 100 per cent right.”