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Energy Department faces contempt charge in lawsuit

A federal judge told the Energy Department on Friday to show why it should not be held in contempt for failing to comply with an agreement for a full environmental impact review of its nuclear weapons programs.

U.S. District Judge Stanley Sporkin, acting on a suit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmentalists, said the department has until October to comply.The lawsuit alleges that the Energy Department agreed in 1990 to prepared a detailed environmental impact statement on its plans to clean up and manage radioactive wastes from decades of weapons production and for its plans for maintaining nuclear weapons in the future.

The review is to include examination of such issues as transport of wastes among facilities, management of wastes and cleanup of past weapons production sites as well as proposed storage facilities such as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico.

Barbara Finemore, an NRDC attorney, argued at a hearing Friday that the department had failed to live up to the agreement, violating the court's consent decree, and should be held in contempt of court.

The Energy Department has argued it is conducting environmental impact reviews on a site-by-site basis and is not required to conduct any further systemwide review.