The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office announced Tuesday it has filed a lawsuit against the federal government seeking to recover an eye-catching $100 million it says the U.S. Department of Energy owes the state for failing to make good on a promise to remove one ton of plutonium from the Savannah River Site this year.
“A case of such magnitude has never been filed by South Carolina against the federal government,” a press release from the attorney general’s office said.
The press release said that Congress mandated that the U.S. Department of Energy would pay South Carolina $1 million per day, beginning Jan. 1, 2016, for every day the department failed to remove from the state one metric ton of weapons-grade defense plutonium. The requirement is in place during the first 100 days of each year from 2016 through 2021.
“The Department of Energy has failed to process or remove the plutonium or pay the state the $100 million owed for 2016 or 2017. This lawsuit seeks the recovery of the $100 million owed for 2017,” the press release said.
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The press release also said that the state sought the 2016 payments in the pending case before the federal court in South Carolina, but federal Judge Michelle Childs ruled that the state should file the claim in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. The state intends to pursue the 2016 money when that matter concludes. The state filed its lawsuit late Monday afternoon for the 2017 monies owed.
The federal government cannot “renege on its obligations” and “leave South Carolina as the permanent dumping ground for weapons-grade plutonium,” Attorney General Alan Wilson said in the complaint.
Hours after Wilson’s press release, a watchdog advocacy group questioned his move.
“The lawsuit by the SC attorney general is posturing and will do nothing to get plutonium out of SRS,” said a statement issued by Tom Clements, director of the Savannah River Site Watch.
“Congress would have to appropriate any fine levied for not removing plutonium from the state and it is hard to imagine that happening.” Clements said.
Clements also said the Senate Appropriations Committee recently advocated termination of the plutonium project and designated $270 million for that effort in the federal government’s upcoming new fiscal year.
“We believe that approach will prevail once the final appropriations bills are passed.” Clements said.