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Feds threaten to sue Washington to block Hanford worker comp

November 28, 2018

FILE--In this May 9, 2017, file photo, an entry point to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation is shown near Richland, Wash. The federal government is threatening to sue Washington state to block recent legislation that helps workers at the former nuclear weapons production site win compensation claims for illnesses. (AP Photo/Manuel Valdes, file)

RICHLAND, Wash. (AP) — The federal government is threatening to sue Washington state to block recent legislation that helps workers at a former nuclear weapons production site win compensation claims for illnesses.

The U.S. Department of Justice recently informed Gov. Jay Inslee that the law violates the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution because it “purports to directly regulate” the federal government and discriminates against it and its contractors.

The Seattle Times reports the letter to Inslee warned of legal action if a settlement cannot be reached by Friday.

The letter represents the Trump administration’s displeasure with a state law passed last spring to help Hanford workers who fell sick, the newspaper reported.

Hanford for decades made plutonium for nuclear weapons and thousands of workers are now engaged in the dangerous work of cleaning up the resulting radioactive waste. The site is located near Richland, Washington.

The Department of Energy, which operates Hanford, is a self-insured employer and pays out claims. The state Department of Labor & Industries makes the final determination on any cases that are appealed by Hanford workers.

Under the new law passed this year, some cancers and other illnesses are assumed to be due to chemical or radiological exposures at Hanford, unless that presumption can be rebutted by clear and convincing evidence.

Representatives for Inslee and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, both Democrats, said they were willing to discuss the new law with the federal government, but were unwilling to suspend enforcement.

Ferguson told the newspaper he would look forward to defending the law if the federal government filed a lawsuit.

“Hanford workers deserve to be compensated for the health issues caused by their dangerous work,” Ferguson said.

Hanford Challenge, a nuclear watchdog group, and the United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters, Local Union 598, both backed passage of the law.

In a letter sent this week to Inslee, their leaders called the law “an appropriate response to address the documented history of inadequate treatment of the hazards associated with the Hanford cleanup.” The letter was signed by Tom Carpenter, Hanford Challenge’s executive director and Randall Walli, business manager of Local Union 598.

The legislation signed into law in March by Inslee was propelled through the Legislature by the concerns of sick Hanford workers frustrated by state denials of their compensation claims.

The legislation drew opposition from the Washington Self-Insurers Association and the Association of Washington Business, with critics arguing that it was “breathtaking in its scope and inclusivity” and would set a bad precedent, according to a summary of testimony included in a state House of Representatives report.

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Information from: The Seattle Times, http://www.seattletimes.com

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