Friday, August 16, 2013

Area 51 and Environmental Disclosure Laws

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The interwebs are abuzz over the release of information about Area 51, the fabled Air Force site which was used for aircraft testing for decades.  The site is, of course, famous in popular culture for supposed UFO research.  CNN has a good review of the topic here.

What most people don't realize is that this is the only place in the US that I know of that has been given a special Presidential Declaration making it immune from disclosure of waste releases on the site.  By law, hazardous wastes are managed by rules set out in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

This Declaration was given because former workers sued the government for illegally burning unknown substances at the site.  The lawsuit alleged that the burning led to severe health problems for the workers, including the deaths of two of them.  The suit also sought to find out the chemicals that the workers were exposed to in order to get proper health treatment.

The US Government fought the lawsuit and said that all work at Area 51 was classified and thus the lawsuit could not proceed because it would lead to the release of classified information.  The courts rejected this assertion by the government and allowed the case to move forward.  However, this was stopped when President Clinton stopped the process with a Presidential Declaration exempting the site from the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

Every year, each U.S. President must renew this declaration.

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