P R E S S R E L E A S E
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE|
Date: October 23, 2007
Contact Citizen Action: (505) 262-1862
New Mexico Environment Department Sues Against Citizen Group to Keep Report Secret
The New Mexico Environment Department on Friday filed a lawsuit against the public interest group Citizen Action. The lawsuit asks the Santa Fe First District Court to keep the public from obtaining a document about nuclear and hazardous wastes at Sandia National Laboratories’ Mixed Waste Landfill. On Friday, the New Mexico Attorney General’s office also affirmed its earlier October decision that a 2006 TechLaw report “fit squarely within the definition of a public record ... subject to inspection.”
The TechLaw report was used by NMED to examine the possibility that radioactive and hazardous wastes could leak into the groundwater at Sandia’s Mixed Waste Landfill. The NMED claimed the report was merely a draft document. However, the report was received by NMED after its decision to place a soil cover over the dump’s wastes and leave them in place. NMED referenced the report in relation to citizen concerns about travel of the wastes from the dump to groundwater, but then refused to provide the TechLaw report to the public. Citizen Action then filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s office under the Public Records Act.
The nuclear weapon waste dump may contain over 700,000 cu ft of radioactive and hazardous wastes that overlie Albuquerque’s drinking water supplies in unlined pits and trenches. Citizen Action argued to the Attorney General that there is a strong policy in favor of the public right to know whether the public is adequately protected from the dump’s dangers. NMED previously furnished TechLaw reports from 2000, but now asserts “executive privilege” to withhold the 2006 report as a draft document.
Citizen Action has taken the position that the data from monitoring at the dump does not support the decision to leave the dangerous wastes in place and that the wastes should be excavated.
Dave McCoy, Citizen Action Director asks, “We appreciate the Attorney General championing openness in government. What is in this nuclear weapons era dump that the government doesn’t want us to know about? Environment Department Secretary Ron Curry states that he is committed to the 'greatest amount of transparency possible on operations at Los Alamos National Laboratories and the lab’s environmental impacts.' Why is the Secretary operating in secret for the toxic cesspool of wastes at Sandia Labs that are above Albuquerque’s drinking water aquifer? A mistaken decision for the soil cover was made that is now in coverup.”
Comments by hydrologist Robert Gilkeson recently warned the NMED of the limitations of fate and transport models that lack adequate data for validation.
A court decision to grant the Environment Department executive privilege to withhold the document could set a precedent that would have a chilling effect on the public’s ability to monitor government agencies throughout New Mexico.