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Minnesota Plans for Nuclear Fund Relief

Fortnightly Magazine - May 15 1997

The Minnesota Legislature is poised to pass a bill that would allow the state to take full advantage of any relief granted by federal courts in pending cases over the U.S. Department of Energy's nuclear waste disposal obligations.

State Senator Steve Murphy and state Representative Steve Timble introduced the legislation, which has support in both Houses. The legislation was introduced to ensure that state ratepayers would see immediate relief if ordered by federal courts in pending cases in the next several months.

According to Mike McCarthy, Nuclear Waste Strategy Coalition administrator, the key aspect of the legislation would authorize the state's public utilities commission to oversee an escrow fund for ratepayers, if such relief is granted.

"Our legislators didn't want our residents missing out," he said. There was concern the court decision could be handed down after the Legislature adjourns this spring, McCarthy said.

According to the coalition, Americans have paid nearly $13 billion through their monthly electric bills for disposal of high-level nuclear waste from power plants. More than $600 million is collected by the federal government every year for the program, enacted under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982. However, the DOE has stated that is did not plan to fulfill its obligations to remove the waste as required by the act.

A total of 49 state agencies, 42 utilities and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners have jointly filed suit against the DOE in federal court. The lawsuit asks for immediate cessation of all payments into the Nuclear Waste Fund, and to escrow more than $600 million in fees already collected.

"[We are] extremely optimistic that there is another win pending in the federal court," McCarthy said. "Everyone wants to be a part of this suit," he added.

In the absolute worst-case scenario, where the DOE does nothing to deal with the waste, a family of four could be refunded as much as $1,300 in damages, McCarthy said. (em ES

Lori A. Burkhart is an associate legal editor with PUBLIC UTILITIES FORTNIGHTLY, Jamie B. Simon is editorial assistant and Elizabeth Striano is managing editor.

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