RICHLAND — A federal appeals court has unanimously ruled that Washington has a right to create laws giving employees of the Hanford nuclear reservation easier access to health benefits if they become ill at work.
Wednesday’s decision by a panel of judges for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit went against the Trump administration, which in 2018 sued Washington over the state’s new law protecting sick Hanford workers.
A panel of three judges, Richard Clifton, James Donato and Milan Smith, ruled that Congress in 1937 gave authority to the states to provide workers’ compensation benefits to injured contractors on federal lands.
Hanford is located near Richland, and for decades made plutonium for nuclear weapons. Some 10,000 workers are now engaged in cleaning up the massive quantity of radioactive waste left by that work.
In 2018, the Washington state Legislature passed a bill making it easier for Hanford workers to access workers’ compensation benefits when they develop certain illnesses associated with their work.
The law created an assumption that Hanford workers became ill because of an exposure to chemicals at work.
Before this bill was passed, Hanford workers suffering from an illness had to prove it wasn’t caused by something else in their lives.
The Trump administration filed a lawsuit against that law, arguing it violates “intergovernmental immunity,” a legal doctrine that prevents states from regulating federal operations or property.