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Hermiston Herald (OR): GASP to Appeal Judge's Ruling

Intern, November 14, 2009

By KAREN HUTCHINSON-TALASKI

The attorney for GASP, an environmental group who has filed several legal challenges to the chemical weapons destruction at the Umatilla Chemical Depot, is considering an appeal of Judge Michael Marcus' ruling against the group.

Richard Condit said despite the ruling, not everything went against the environmental group.

Condit said the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) failed to either issue or deny a Title 5 Clean Air Act permit to the depot within the required time, about 18 months. The Army applied for the permit in 2003.

A Multnomah County Circuit Court judge agreed and ruled the DEQ had to make a decision, which it did by issuing the permit after Marcus' ruling.

The Army has been destroying chemical weapons stored at the depot, subject to regulation by DEQ and the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission (EQC). The weapons need to be destroyed according to an international treaty, but GASP has challenged Oregon's regulation of the efforts.

Challenges to the disposal program have been ongoing for years. Both the DEQ and the EQC had asked the court for a summary judgment, throwing out the latest round of challenges. The court granted the state's motion and made a number of rulings that will bring this latest round of challenges to a close.

Marcus made the following rulings:

  • Affirmed the state's decision that incineration is the best available technology for the disposal of the mustard agent.
  • Affirmed the state's decision that the filters being used in the incinerators at Umatilla were the best available technology.
  • Rejected arguments that Umatilla had operated unlawfully as a result of the state of environmental permits. The judge rejected arguments that the state had unreasonably delayed a decision on a waste disposal permit. The judge found that the state should have decided sooner whether to issue an air quality permit, but noted that if this permit is issued in the next week, the problem would be resolved.
  • Affirmed the state's decision to allow a temporary destruction program at Umatilla, in which the destruction of the mustard agent containers is being closely examined and fine tuned.

Condit said his group is concerned that the EQC and the DEQ have relied too heavily on the Army's expertise when it comes to making decisions between incineration and neutralization.

GASP believes neutralization the best available technology when it comes to destroying HD mustard. The EQC did not, in his opinion, do their due diligence in investigating alternative methods for destroying mustard.

"The Army is viewed as the expert," Condit said. "Some of that deference is not justified."