New Mexico Court of Appeals Upholds Need for Public Hearing about LANL Discharge Permit

Raising concerns about a permit that would allow 350,000 gallons per day of treated chromium plume water to be land applied in or near the floodplains of Mortandad Canyon at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), the Communities for Clean Water formally requested three times that a public hearing be held.  Despite their requests to the New Mexico Environment Department for a public hearing to present testimony about alternative uses of the water and other issues, the Environment Department Secretary, Ryan Flynn, denied the requests.

In 2015, the Communities for Clean Water (CCW) appealed Flynn’s decision to the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission.  The Commission is a state body with members from the State Engineer and Interstate Stream Commission, and a broad range of departments, such as Health, Game and Fish, and Agriculture.  Generally, the Environment Department Secretary serves as commission chair.  Ultimately, the Commission agreed with Flynn’s decision to deny CCW a public hearing.  CCW appealed the decision to the New Mexico Court of Appeals.

Last week the Court of Appeals issued its decision and agreed with CCW that a public hearing should be held.  The Court faulted the Commission for acting “arbitrarily and capriciously” in deciding that CCW’s request did not represent “a substantial public interest.”  In fact, the Court stressed that CCW had repeatedly laid out its case for a public hearing and both LANL and the Environment Department had indicated the importance of the permit.  CCW v. WQCC A-1-CA-35253 Opinion 12-27-17

Jaimie Park, an attorney with the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, represented CCW before the Commission and the Court of Appeals.

CCW formally came together in 2006.  It is a coalition of six organizations comprised of Amigos Bravos, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, Honor Our Pueblo Existence, the New Mexico Acequia Association, the Partnership for Earth Spirituality, and Tewa Women United.  CCW brings together the separate organizations to have a collective and powerful impact to protect and restore water quality downstream and downwind of LANL.

Kathy Sanchez, Founder and Program Manager for Environmental Health and Justice at Tewa Women United, said, “As a Native woman trying to make sense of these procedures, the time and resources it takes can be overwhelming.  I’m delighted that the Court of Appeals sees the need for local communities that are highly impacted by toxic pollutants to have an opportunity to present their local expertise. We’ve waited a long time to have a hearing that can hold the Lab and the Environment Department accountable.”

On Tuesday, January 9th, the Water Quality Control Commission will meet in a closed executive session to discuss the court’s decision and next steps.  WQCC draft 1-9-18 Agenda

Additional References

CCW’s three sets of public comments:  f CCW DP-1793 Comments 3-2-15f CCW DP-1793 Comments 4-29-15f CCW DP-1793 Comments 6-15-15

NMED’s final Ground Water Discharge Permit DP-1793: ATT00104



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