Haley: SRS locals shouldn’t get MOX penalty money

A security vehicle leaves through the main gate of the Savannah River Site in New Ellenton. Gov. Nikki Haley is standing up to pressure that some of the $100 million the state may collect from a missed MOX plutonium deadline at the SRS should go to areas near the site.

Gov. Nikki Haley won’t give in to rural groups lobbying for part of a $100 million fine the state may collect over a missed deadline at the Savannah River Site.

Some rural economic groups contend that if the state collects money from a missed MOX plutonium deadline at the Savannah River site, some of that money should go to areas around the site.

The governor disagrees.

“Federal law requires the Department of Energy to make economic and impact assistance payments to the State of South Carolina. The law is clear, these payments are due to the State alone, not other individuals or groups that may also wish to collect,” Chaney Adams, Haley’s spokesperson, told The Post and Courier in an email Friday.

The site’s plutonium project, known as MOX, is part of a U.S. agreement with Russia that would convert 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium into commercial nuclear fuel. Russia is expected to dispose of the same amount and recently criticized the U.S. for its attempt to abandon MOX.

The Energy Department is required to pay South Carolina $1 million a day, dating back to Jan. 1, 2016, because it failed to either convert 1 metric ton, or remove a ton from the state. The requirement is outlined in a 2003 agreement and caps the fines at $100 million. The 100th day of the year was Saturday.

After a month of nonpayment, Attorney General Alan Wilson sued for the money on Feb. 9 and requested a summary judgment on Wednesday. Wilson’s request states that receiving the money is a “matter of law” and that there is no “genuine dispute of any material fact.”

The Southern Carolina Regional Development Alliance filed a motion on March 31 to intervene on the lawsuit. The group serves, among others, Barnwell and Allendale counties — two of the three counties that house SRS.

Danny Black, the president of the alliance, thinks some of the money should be sent directly to that area, where 28 percent of the 90,000 residents live in poverty. But Black was told that South Carolina will deny the group’s motion to intervene. The state has until April 18 to formally deny the request.

“After looking at the suit, there’s nothing in it to help the locals,” Black said. “It would go to the general fund, and Lord knows we don’t want to see all of it go to the state when we’ve lived with SRS locally for over 60 years.”

If the motion is rejected, it will then go before a judge who will make a final decision.

The bulk of the site is in Aiken County, home to the Economic Development Partnership — another rural group that serves Aiken, Edgefield and Saluda counties.

Will Williams, president of the group, supports Black’s attempt even though his group is not seeking entry into the lawsuit.

“We would hope the governor would provide a portion of the settlement to the three counties that are contiguous to SRS,” Williams said.

Wilson’s office would not comment on the issue.

Other parties are also following the MOX money. State Rep. Chip Limehouse pre-filed a bill in December that would send all of the money to the S.C. Highway Fund. The Charleston Republican has seen no action on the bill since January but says he doesn’t need a bill to get his point across.

“I can press the issue in the press, I can press it the governor’s office and with the attorney general’s office,” Limehouse said. “There isn’t a more worthy cause than fixing our dilapidated roads.”

In addition to statewide grievances over the MOX project, President Barack Obama’s 2017 budget request has received criticism from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

During a media forum Thursday in Russia, Putin said the country skipped last month’s Nuclear Security Summit in Washington because of the United States’ attempt to terminate MOX.

About $5 billion has been spent on the project and the Energy Department believes it will cost another $47.5 billion to finish. Obama wants to instead move forward a “downblending” method that would dilute the plutonium using SRS facilities, and send the diluted material to a storage facility in New Mexico.

Putin’s comments fueled a letter Friday sent from U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. The South Carolina Republicans said in the letter that Putin’s words are proof that Moniz’s department has not fully vetted the proposal to terminate MOX.

“This is why we will pursue all the tools at our disposal to ensure that construction of the MOX program proceeds until all questions about alternatives are favorably resolved,” they wrote.

Reach Derrek Asberry at 843-937-5517. Follow him on Twitter @DerrekAsberry.