ENVIRONMENT DEPARTMENT VIOLATES
INSPECTION OF PUBLIC RECORDS ACT
July 29, 2014
New NMED policy and procedure for inspecting public records makes it harder, more expensive, and less transparent for the public to review records.
On July 28, 2014, Citizen Action New Mexico appeared at the New Mexico Environment Department to review requested doculments under the Inspection of Public Records Act. Documents for review concerned the Kirtland Air Force Base jet fuel spill -- the largest underground toxic spill into an aquifer in US history. Documents were also sought for the Mixed Waste Landfill at Sandia National Laboratories.
Paper copies are no longer available for review by NMED decision. Only electronic copies of documents were available, presented on a small laptop computer for review. NMED now intends to charge $0.25 per page for electronic copies even though NMED receives most copies in electronic format regarding the jet fuel spill. Previous to the new June 2014 NMED Policy and Procedure for the Inspection of Public Records, any organization could download electronic-formatted documents for free. Now the process is not only unnecessarily harder but can become prohibitively expensive for large document requests.
Most NGOs face lean budgets and the imposition of these fees for documents already in electronic format is unreasonable under the statute. No language in the New Mexico statute (the Inspection of Public Records Act or IPRA) calls for fees concerning electronic copies of public documents that already exist in an electronic format. There are environmental statutes that require NMED to protect the health and safety of Albuquerque's citizens and environment. Transparency has been stated as a major goal by Governor Martinez’ administration, but the Environment Department’s new policy is contrary to reaching that goal.
One questions why the Environment Department is imposing such obstruction when it formerly provided electronic documents by email or allowed them to be downloaded on external storage devices.
NMED's new policy puts up an expensive and time-consuming roadblock for public review of public records and obstructs transparency. This policy change works toward evading public scrutiny of government inaction.
The overwhelming bulk of documents that NMED has for the Kirtland fuel spill and the Mixed Waste Landfill already are already maintained in electronic format. NMED did not have to convert paper copies to electronic versions at all. Citizen Action could have inexpensively and easily copied electronic documents to its own memory device or NMED could have forwarded electronic versions by email.
Citizen Action sent a letter to NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn requesting correction of this policy.