The U.S. Department of Justice said a new law in the state of Washington that increases the number of Hanford nuclear reservation workers covered by a presumption does not eliminate the need for the country’s Supreme Court to determine whether the presumption violates the principles of intergovernmental immunity.
The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hold oral arguments USA v Washington on April 18. Washington State Attorney General Robert Ferguson said in a court statement on March 15 that the dispute is controversial because Governor Jay Inslee passed new legislation that extends the scope of the Hanford presumption.
In March, the governor signed SB 5890, which gives all workers at the nuclear power reserve the assumption that several diseases are replaceable when they are experienced within 72 hours after exposure to vapors or chemicals. The bill repealed the statutory language from the 2018 measure that created the presumption, HB 1723, which limited its application to US Department of Energy workers only.
The Ministry of Justice told the Supreme Court that SB 5890 changes the category of workers covered by the presumption but preserves the “new and burdensome characteristics” of the original law.
“HB 1723 was in force for almost four years before the state adopted SB 5890,” the department claimed in court documents. “During that time, more than 200 claims were allowed … which obliged the United States to pay tens of millions of federal taxpayers. The validity of HB 1723 is directly relevant to the handling of these claims, many of which are still being appealed. The question raised is therefore irrelevant. “
The Justice Department claims that the presumption is ruled out by the principles of federal intergovernmental immunity. If the Supreme Court agrees, the department claims that it would be able to recover payments already made.
While attorneys representing the state of Washington argue that any claim approved under HB 1723 would also be approved under SB 5890, the Department of Justice said that the coverage provisions under the two bills are different.
HB 1723 applies to all persons who directly or indirectly work for the federal government on the 500 square kilometer Hanford site. SB 5890 applies to workers at all facilities for radiologically hazardous waste, which is defined as “any structure and its soil” where specific forms of hazardous waste are stored. The federal government claims that some office and administrative buildings, for example, do not appear to fit within the coverage area defined by SB 5890.
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