Open Burning of Hazardous Waste Allowed at LANL

January 7, 2011

New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ron Curry reversed his prohibition of open burning at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) near the completion of his term, which ended on December 31.

On November 30, Curry prohibited open burning of hazardous waste at LANL as part of his Final Order, the culmination of the three and one-half year public permitting process. Soon thereafter, the Department of Energy (DOE) and LANL filed a motion for reconsideration of the decision. Curry allowed the other parties to the permit hearing to file papers stating their position. CCNS, and other non-governmental organizations that participated in the hearing, as well as the Environment Department, opposed the reconsideration. During the permitting process, the Secretary is not involved in any of the proceedings until he or she makes the final decision.

LANL then filed their reply, focusing on the arguments of the Environment Department. Curry sided with DOE and LANL stating that the Applicants had "shown good cause" and allowed for the open burning issue to be sent back to the Hazardous Waste Bureau. He did not, however, set a timeline for the Applicants to submit their revised application. He left it up to the Hazardous Waste Bureau and the Applicants to set up a schedule. The parties who participated in the hearing and the 1,400 people who made public comments in opposition to open burning practices expect to be involved in the new process.

There are three sites at LANL that are used for experiments involving open detonation that have never been permitted. Under the new permit, DOE and LANL are required to submit their plans for closing the sites by the end of June. There will be an opportunity for public comment as well as to request a public hearing.

Joni Arends, of CCNS, said, "It may be efficient to set the timeline for the submittal of the application for the open burning units to coincide with the timeline for the closure plans for the open detonation units."

On December 30, DOE and LANL filed a Notice of Appeal in the New Mexico Court of Appeals about the final permit. They also appealed in the U.S. District Court. CCNS also filed a Notice of Appeal in the New Mexico Court of Appeals. One of the CCNS issues is that the final permit does not include plans for closing the three dumps at LANL located at Technical Area 54, including Areas G, H, and L. The dump at Area G covers over 60 acres and cost estimates for closure range from $9.4 million to $9.1 billion for complete excavation and disposal off the LANL site.

Back to News Index