RICHLAND — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee called on the U.S. Attorney General to support Hanford employees and drop a federal appeal to stop a law that makes it easier for ill workers to be compensated.
Inslee issued the statement in response to the U.S. Department of Justice's petition for review to the U.S. Supreme Court against the state law.
"The decision by the Department of Justice to pursue this case in the U.S. Supreme Court is a mistake that threatens to compound the suffering of Hanford workers," said the statement.
"I implore Attorney General Merrick Garland to consider the greater interests of justice and withdraw the department's petition," he wrote.
The Supreme Court is expected to decide in the next few weeks whether to accept the Department of Justice appeal.
If it does not, the Department of Justice will be out of options to appeal the law and it will stand.
The Trump administration fought the law, losing the case it brought in U.S District Court in Eastern Washington and an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Now the Biden administration also is fighting the law passed by the Washington state Legislature in 2018.
The Washington state law makes it easier for ill Hanford workers to qualify for state worker compensation benefits.
It requires the Washington state Department of Labor and Industries to presume that radiological or chemical exposures at Hanford caused any neurological diseases or respiratory illnesses claimed by past or current employees of Hanford contractors.
Many types of cancer also are presumed to be caused by working at Hanford, plus some limited heart problems, under the new law.
Workers no longer have to prove that not only that their illness was not caused by something else in their lives, but that an exposure to a specific chemical caused their illness. Some 1,500 different volatile gases have been found in waste in Hanford's underground tanks.
Most other workers in Washington state bear the burden of proof to show that their injury or illness was a direct result of a specific workplace incident in order for them to be paid workers' comp.
Ill worker compensation
Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson was in the Tri-Cities last week for a news conference with Hanford workers and union representatives to ask federal officials to reconsider.
"I applaud Attorney General Bob Ferguson's commitment to defending this state law, as he has ably done twice before," wrote Inslee. "There is still time to choose a different path, and I stand with the labor community and all those encouraging the Department of Justice to take advantage of it. No legal principle is so important that it can justify a course of action that will undermine the health and safety of these workers and their families."
Inslee noted federal officials should not lose sight of why the legislation was needed in the first place.
"For years, the federal government has failed in its obligation to care for these workers and their families. As the recent final report of the Hanford Healthy Energy Workers Board showed, nearly six in 10 workers at the site who were surveyed reported exposure to radioactive or toxic materials at Hanford, the most contaminated environmental cleanup site in the country," he said.