.News Update 01/11/08

New Mexico Attorney General Enters Struggle Over Public Records Request

January 11, 2008

The New Mexico Attorney General filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit filed by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) against Citizen Action over the release of a technical report under the state Inspection of Public Records Act. TechLaw, a NMED contractor, prepared the technical report about the Mixed Waste Landfill at Sandia National Laboratories. The report explores the long-term risk of the Mixed Waste Landfill leaking contaminants into the drinking water aquifer for Albuquerque and the surrounding region. Over 700,000 cubic feet of radioactive, hazardous and toxic wastes are buried in unlined trenches and pits at the Cold War era waste dump.

Citizen Action New Mexico is an Albuquerque-based public interest organization addressing the legal and technical issues surrounding the Mixed Waste Landfill.

On two occasions the New Mexico Attorney General informed NMED that the report must be disclosed to Citizen Action. Attorney General Gary King said, "Our analysis is that the requested document is a public record and the report should be disclosed."

NMED has refused to release the report. In October, they filed a lawsuit against Citizen Action, asking the court to determine that the report is exempt from the open records act. NMED argued that the report is exempt under the executive privilege provisions of the Act.

Citizen Action filed a counter lawsuit against NMED over the release of the essential report, alleging violations of the open records and open meeting laws.

The New Mexico Constitution requires the Attorney General to enforce the provisions of the open records act. The Attorney General asked the court to allow it to join Citizen Action in their opposition to the NMED exemption claim.

NMED Secretary Ron Curry said it is unfortunate that the Attorney General is opposing NMED's "good faith effort to resolve a dispute with this group in the neutral forum of the courts. We believe our position and it is only fair to have an opportunity for court assessment of our position."

This is the latest in a struggle over what should be done with the dump. NMED determined that it was safe to leave the waste in place. Citizen Action argues that in order to protect Albuquerque's drinking water supply, the dump needs to be dug up and the contents placed in a storage facility. In December, the New Mexico Court of Appeals agreed with NMED.

Dave McCoy, Director of Citizen Action, asked, "Does Secretary Curry believe the court can't make a fair assessment of the case because the Attorney General requests intervention? NMED's attempt to keep the TechLaw report secret continues a long administrative history of concealing information about this dangerous dump from the public. Records about the dump's contents have been kept classified or destroyed. At public hearings, NMED and the Department of Energy testified that 'no contamination to groundwater was detected,' secretly knowing they lacked a well monitoring network capable of detecting contamination. The secret TechLaw report may provide information that contradicts NMED's decision to leave hazardous and radioactive wastes over Albuquerque's drinking water aquifer."

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