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Monday, October 16, 2006  
Appeals court questions Livermore biodefense lab

By: David Kravets
Published In: AP (Associated Press)

SAN FRANCISCO - The federal government's plan to research lethal agents such as HIV and anthrax in a San Francisco Bay area suburb hit a legal snag Monday when an appeals court ruled the Energy Department must consider what would happen if the lab were attacked by terrorists.

Acting in a case brought by neighbors of the Livermore facility, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Energy Department conducted an inadequate assessment of the lab's environmental impact because the agency did not adequately examine the repercussions of a terrorist attack.

The new biodefense lab was initially set to open in August at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, but lawsuits have so far held up the project. The facility would test airborne agents, including hantavirus, influenza, hepatitis, Q fever, brucellis, herpes and salmonella, on live animals.

Steve Wampler, a spokesman for the lab, said the Energy Department was studying the decision and weighing its options, which include an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The government told the appeals court during oral arguments this summer that the administration concluded there was little risk of disaster striking the lab.

The case was brought by Tri-Valley Cares, which claimed the government did not adequately prepare or analyze what might happen if the proposed biodefense lab were attacked.

Executive Director Marylia Kelley, who lives across the street from the lab about 50 miles east of San Francisco, said she was concerned the facility might still open without sufficient consideration of its risks.

"The planned 60 shipments of pathogens in and out of Livermore each month have been halted for now, but we must stay vigilant because the Energy Department may still try to approve this plan without serious consideration to terrorist risks and other security concerns," Kelley said.

It's not the first time the court has ordered terror studies on government property.

In June, the San Francisco-based appeals court also blocked approval of an Energy Department proposal to store additional radioactive waste at a nuclear energy installation in Central California. The court said federal regulators had to first consider the likelihood of a terrorist attack on the facility.

The case decided Monday is Tri-Valley Cares v. Energy Department, 04-17232.


Editors: David Kravets has been covering state and federal courts for more than a decade.

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