Law Firms

Report Criticizes Energy Department’s Hiring of Morgan Lewis

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A report released yesterday criticizes a decision by the Department of Energy to hire Morgan, Lewis & Bockius in connection with the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project despite conflicts of interest by the law firm.

The department’s inspector general said a $109 million contract should not have been awarded to Morgan Lewis in September 2007 without an explanation of why the conflicts were now determined to be acceptable, the American Lawyer reports. In 1999 the department had refused to award a contract to Morgan Lewis in connection with Yucca Mountain because of the conflicts.

Morgan Lewis represents nuclear utility companies that are suing the government for $7 billion because of delays in opening the nuclear waste facility, the Las Vegas Sun reports. Its story says Morgan Lewis will help the Energy Department license the Yucca Mountain project, while the American Lawyer says Morgan Lewis will represent the department in hearings on the project.

The inspector general noted the Energy Department’s former decision to reject Morgan Lewis. The report quoted from a 1999 memo that concluded the department “cannot afford a public perception that its licensing decisions regarding the repository were influenced by a firm that owes loyalties to the nuclear utilities.”

Although the report criticized the department’s failure to document why it changed its policy, it did say the Energy Department apparently followed its conflict of interest requirements in awarding the new contract to Morgan Lewis. It also said Morgan Lewis had implemented a plan to mitigate the conflicts.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Nevada lawmakers cited the report in calling on the Energy Department to ask Morgan Lewis to recuse itself. “It is unacceptable that the department is willing to set aside any and all integrity in a rush to implement its dangerous plan of shipping 77,000 tons of nuclear waste across the country to Nevada,” Reid said in a statement with the other legislators.

Morgan Lewis said in a statement it is gratified the report confirmed it had acted in accordance with ethics rules.

The contract pays $47.7 million to the firm through 2011 and gives the Energy Department the option to extend the contract for another five years at a cost of up to $61.2 million, the American Lawyer story says.

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