State officials have blasted the federal Department of Energy for a maneuver to change a law that has been used by the state to slow the DOE's research for a nuclear dump at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.

Gov. Bob Miller and Attorney General Brian McKay released copies of a letter from Energy Secretary James Watkins to a dump advocate, Sen. Bennett Johnston, D-La., outlining the strategy."The latest maneuver from the DOE is an outrage," Miller said. "The DOE has clearly been doing nothing but paying lip service to state's rights.

"This letter is proof that the DOE wants to circumvent the court system and also the right that Nevada has to fight a high-level nuclear waste facility that would be a hazard to the citizens of this state.

"In Nevada, we're supposed to follow the law. If the DOE doesn't like the law, they just change it," Miller said.

McKay said Watkins' letter Thursday to Johnston "is typical of the way the federal government has treated Nevada since the very beginning of its search for a high-level nuclear waste repository."

"The federal government has determined that it can't live by the law that currently exists, so it has decided that it will try to change the law so that it can carry out its desire to jam the repository down our throat.

"This is federal government action at its worst," McKay said. "And those folks in Washington, D.C., should hang their heads in shame."

The state is planning a U.S. Supreme Court appeal to stop the federal government from examining Yucca Mountain. Watkins said in his letter that the legal proceedings could take up to two years.

"Under these circumstances, I strongly believe that legislative action to gain access to Yucca Mountain and to sustain our characterization activities without future permitting obstructions is necessary in order to fulfill our mandate from the Congress," he wrote.

Watkins said the DOE wouldn't try to get exemptions from federal environmental protection requirements. He also said he was "deeply respectful of the state of Nevada's legal rights to challenge our mandate."

McKay already has announced plans for a U.S. Supreme Court appeal and a bid for a stay of a Sept. 19 ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that exempted the federal government from a state law barring the dump.

The case involves Nevada's refusal to issue three environmental permits for DOE studies at Yucca Mountain. The state contends no further work at the site is authorized because of the 1989 state legislative action and Congress' failure to respond.

A 1987 federal law allows a state to disapprove a nuclear dump site subject to a congressional override. But the 9th Circuit said Nevada's legislative action was premature because no final selection has been made.

Nevada argued it was entitled to object now because Yucca Mountain, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, was the only site named for consideration by Congress in the 1987 law.