P R E S S R E L E A S E
Date: October 8, 2008 Contact: Dave McCoy, Director
Citizen Action New Mexico: (505) 262-1862
Public Interest Group Wins Counter Lawsuit
Against New Mexico Environment Department for Secret Documents
Citizen Action, an Albuquerque-based public interest group, won the second half of a counter lawsuit against the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) charging that the state violated the Public Information Act by failing to provide a secret scientific TechLaw report about contamination at Sandia Laboratories’ Mixed Waste Landfill. The landfill, a Cold War legacy waste dump containing over 700,000 cu ft of radioactive and hazardous waste, is situated above Albuquerque’s sole source drinking water aquifer. A week ago Citizen Action also won the right to proceed to trial on the Open Meetings Act violation alleged in its counter lawsuit filed after NMED sued Citizen Action to prevent it from obtaining the TechLaw report.
New Mexico 1st District Court Judge Daniel Sanchez rejected the NMED argument that the TechLaw report involved NMED’s “thought processes” and could not be examined under the Public Records Act. The decision to deny NMED’s motion for summary judgment and to dismiss NMED’s case against Citizen Action also held that public policy upheld the citizen’s fundamental right to have access to public records. The Court refused to allow NMED’s expansive interpretation of “executive privilege” for withholding the report.
The decision cited language that, “Public business is the public’s business. The people have the right to know. Freedom of information about public records and proceedings is their just heritage. Citizens must have the legal right to investigate the conduct of their affairs.”
Dave McCoy, Director for Citizen Action, stated, “We are grateful to the Attorney General’s Office for intervening in this matter to support the public right to know. NMED and other state agencies should stop wasting taxpayer money on these retaliatory lawsuits to hide information from the public. Citizen Action is amending its counter lawsuit to request the release of hundreds of reports, including additional TechLaw reports that NMED is keeping secret in a confidential area of the Hazardous Waste Bureau library. Citizen Action hopes that the NMED will soon release the TechLaw report in question along with the others.”
Citizen Action Attorney Nancy Simmons stated, “By NMED keeping the TechLaw report secret and suing Citizen Action to quell its investigation into the hazardous and radioactive waste dump at Sandia Labs, we learned of NMED extensive withholding of public scientific records related to decision making. Now there is also a trial pending for Open Meetings Act violations. Taxpayers have a right to see what their money has purchased.”
The TechLaw reports were used by NMED to examine computer modeling showing that radioactive and hazardous wastes will leak into the groundwater at Sandia’s Mixed Waste Landfill.
Robert Gilkeson, registered geologist, stated that “NMED and Sandia have known since 1991 that they do not have a well monitoring system at the dump capable of detecting contamination. Instead of validating the models with real data, NMED and Sandia are manipulating assumptions in complex computer models to cover up a wrongheaded decision to leave these long-lived wastes in place under a dirt cover that NMED has decided won’t even work at a similar dump at Los Alamos National Laboratory. NMED should reopen the poor decision made to leave wastes in place at the MWL above Albuquerque’s precious drinking water.”
For more information contact Citizen Action New Mexico: (505) 262-1862 or visit the Citizen Action website at www.radfreenm.org. Citizen Action is a project of the New Mexico Community Foundation.