News 12 at 6 o'clock / Wednesday, August 14, 2013
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WRDW) -- South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson is still impressed and proud of the victory Aiken County, the State of South Carolina, and the State of Washington scored at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on Tuesday.
"What the court basically said [Tuesday] is that even the Administration, even the Federal Government, has to follow the law, which they have flouted for the last several years. The court even said as much in its opinion," says Wilson on the legal victory.
The Court of Appeals used strong words against President Barack Obama after he terminated the licensing of Yucca Mountain as a repository for nuclear waste.
"This case has serious implications for our constitutional structure. It is no overstatement to say that our constitutional system of separation of powers would be significantly altered if we were to allow executive and independent agencies to disregard federal law in the manner asserted in this case by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission," writes Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh in the majority opinion. "Our decision today rests on the constitutional authority of Congress, and the respect that the Executive and the Judiciary properly owe to Congress in the circumstances here."
The opinion says the termination of Yucca Mountain's licensing, which took place in 2009, after Pres. Obama took office, violated the Constitution, particularly the Separation of Powers provisions.
Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act passed by Congress, the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada was designated as the the place for Savannah River Site's and the nation's nuclear waste years ago. It was a $31 billion endeavor to drill the six mile tunnel into Yucca Mountain. About two billion of that was collected from electric bills in South Carolina and Georgia alone.
"People who think this is about a mountain that's on the other side of the country and nuclear waste, they don't think it has anything to do with them. If you pay a utility bill, you probably pay into a nuclear waste fund," says Wilson. "[The federal government] kept our money, and they basically deep-sixed the Yucca Mountain project. They said keep your nuclear waste, we'll keep the money."
But Yucca Mountain was, and still is, the law.
So, in August 2011, Aiken County, along with other states and citizens, filed a writ of mandamus, a legal maneuver that would force government action.
On Tuesday, after a year of deliberation, the Court of Appeals released their ruling in Aiken County's favor.
But does this victory mean Yucca Mountain is a done deal?
"This does not mean that Yucca Mountain will definitely be open. This commission could still say, 'No, we're not going to open Yucca.' But they have to go through they have to go through the prescribed process outlined through federal law," says Wilson.
Gridlock in Congress could also halt any money Yucca will need. And the only dissenting judge in the case says that's likely to happen. The fix for this, Wilson says, could be to contact your Congressman.
"You know, call your member of Congress. I've certainly called mine," he says.
Attorney General Wilson also says that the federal government could appeal the court's decision all the way up to the Supreme Court of the United States.