FROM : THE STATE.COM

Nuclear waste can stay in S.C.

CONGRESS: Also, bill with tobacco buyout provision backed by S.C. farmers could die in U.S. Senate


By LAUREN MARKOE

Washington Bureau

Nuclear waste can stay in S.C.

WASHINGTON — High-level nuclear waste once required to be shipped outside of South Carolina soon will be allowed to stay in state, and a tobacco buyout program supported by hundreds of S.C. farmers has hit a snag.

These are two of the crucial S.C. issues to be decided in the waning hours of the 108th congressional session, scheduled to draw to a close this weekend.

A provision in the $445.6 billion defense-funding bill for fiscal 2005, assured easy passage, will allow residual high-level nuclear waste to be mixed with grout and left in 48 steel drums at the Savannah River Site near Aiken.

Currently, all high-level waste must be moved to a repository designed for high-level waste.

The U.S. Department of Energy sought the change, as had U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett, R-S.C., who represents the district that includes SRS, pushed hard for it in the House.

“This is a big day for environmental cleanup in South Carolina ... we’re looking to (clean up SRS) 23 years ahead of schedule and at a cost savings to the taxpayer of almost $16 billion,” Graham said in a statement Friday.

Environmental groups, citing the dangerous nature of the material and casting doubts about the security of the tanks, had lobbied hard against the change.

“Legislators from ... South Carolina are jeopardizing the health of their own constituents by allowing the Energy Department to avoid cleaning up millions of gallons of highly radioactive waste in corroding tanks next to drinking water supplies,& #8221; Geoff Fettus, a lawyer with The National Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.

SRS, which produced nuclear weapons during the Cold War, is on the Savannah River.

On the tobacco buyout, South Carolina tobacco farmers Friday worried that the program, which passed the House as part of a corporate-tax bill, could die in the Senate.

The buyout — which would send as much as $1 billion to South Carolina and allow struggling farmers to leave tobacco farming — had been linked with language that would increase regulations on cigarette manufacturers.

But the House, which passed the corporate-tax bill Thursday, had stripped out the proposed cigarette regulations.

In response, some senators threatened a filibuster — a parliamentary maneuver that could kill the bill.

Larry McKencie, assistant to the president of the South Carolina Farm Bureau, said it would be a shame for the program to die in a filibuster.

“We’ve been hanging out in limbo for so long,” he said.

Congress is expected to come back for a lame-duck session after the Nov. 2 election.

Reach Markoe at (202) 383-6023 or lmarkoe@krwashington.com


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