P R E S S R E L E A S E
Date: October 10, 2008
Contact: Dave McCoy,Director
Citizen Action New Mexico: (505) 262-1862
New Mexico Environment Department Refuses to Comply with Court Decision to Give Secret Documents to Public Interest Group
Citizen Action, a New Mexico environmental watchdog group, announced today that the New Mexico Environment Department still refuses to release a public document regarding an ongoing dispute over the effectiveness of a remediation plan for the Sandia Mixed Waste Landfill. This is despite the First Judicial District Court's ruling that the so-called "2006 TechLaw document" is a public record subject to full disclosure pursuant to the Inspection of Public Records Act. The Department relies on a confidentiality order entered by the same court when the litigation over the nature of the document was still ongoing.
"The Department told us that prompt release of the document would 'undermine its rights,'" stated Nancy Simmons, attorney for Citizen Action. "While they're technically within their legal authority to continue to keep this document from the public, it certainly undermines their public face of being open to participation by the public and
public input in their decision making.”
Dave McCoy Director of Citizen Action said, “Far from encouraging trust in the Department, this new move leads to distrust. This isn't the way government is supposed to operate in a democracy, especially in New Mexico, which has a tradition of open government. To my way of thinking, the citizens of New Mexico have 'rights' and the Department has power, which they're apparently more than willing to continue to exercise to block access to public records.”
Citizen Action will return to court as soon as possible to enforce the court's ruling. In the meantime, Citizen Action is stymied in its efforts to gain access to a document prepared by an independent contractor and submitted to the Department to assist its review of
Sandia Laboratories' plans for the Mixed Waste Landfill. The New Mexico Attorney General has also intervened, on the side of release of the document.
In addition, Citizen Action learned during testimony by James Bearzi, Hazardous Waste Bureau Chief, that the Department ,ay have hundreds of TechLaw and other documents that they've kept away from public disclosure for several years. Citizen Action requested at least an index of the documents in May of this year, but the Department has not responded with either a denial or permission to review these documents. Citizen Action filed a motion Friday seeking to amend its counterclaim to seek access to these documents as well. "The ironic thing is, the Department sued my client to block access to a single document, not the other way around. This sends a terrible message to the public, that if they challenge the State, the State will haul them into court. Fortunately, Citizen Action was able to respond forcefully with the help of the New Mexico Attorney General's Office, but not everyone is in that position," said Simmons.