The Fox and the Henhouse: Conflict of Interest at Yucca Mountain

Published on Friday, April 4, 2008
by the Las Vegas Review-Journal

The Department of Energy’s bungling on the Yucca Mountain project continues.

Or is “bungling” too nice a word?

On Thursday, the DOE’s inspector general revealed that the agency had failed to properly document why it chose a law firm riddled with conflicts of interest as the recipient of a $100 million contract to help prepare a license application for the nuke dump.

The firm, Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP, represents 11 nuclear utilities that are suing the government for not having already taken the spent waste off their hands.

In other words, the DOE hired a firm representing those with a vested interest in pushing the Yucca Mountain project to prepare the application that must be approved before the dump can open.

Fox, meet the henhouse.

All this, even though another firm with no such conflicts had been rejected by DOE officials, who provided no rationale for the decision.

“We found the absence of such documentation disturbing,” said the investigator’s report. “In our view, the public interest would have been better served had the department done more to document the key decision points relating to this procurement.”

A DOE spokeswoman said the agency’s actions were within the law.

“While the IG observed that DOE did not develop documentation in such a manner as the IG would have preferred,” said the DOE’s Megan Barnett, “that sort of documentation is neither required nor consistent with the type of procurement conducted here.”

Public interest? What’s that?

Of course, such dissembling should come as no surprise to most Nevadans.

“It’s painfully clear,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, “that the Energy Department continues to set aside public interest and security in its rush to turn Nevada into the nation’s nuclear dumping ground.”

But as long as it was all legal …

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