Additional Funding for NMED Oversight Bureau Proposed in NM State Legislature

* Representative Jim Trujillo, of Santa Fe County, introduced legislation recently that would allocate an additional $300,000 to support the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) Department of Energy (DOE) Oversight Bureau.

The bureau was established by an agreement-in-principle between DOE and the State of New Mexico. The bureau's responsibilities include assessing DOE's compliance with applicable laws; prioritization of cleanup and compliance activities; and a program of independent monitoring and oversight. Although DOE is responsible for funding the bureau, the bureau is routinely under funded. In recent years, funding has fallen as low as $725,000, forcing the bureau to consider transferring its staff to other parts of NMED.

Recent initiatives by the bureau include sampling stormwater runoff from the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) site following the Cerro Grande fire that found the highest concentrations of plutonium leaving the site since the 1950s and 1960s. The bureau also discovered tritium and strontium in a drinking water well serving residents of Los Alamos.

Further, the bureau facilitates the Community Radiation Monitoring Group, which allows community members to review and analyze air monitoring data from around Northern New Mexico. The group has become essential to participation by communities downwind of LANL, as represented by the Embudo Valley Environmental Monitoring Group (EVEMG). The EVEMG recently began a postcard campaign urging decision-makers to secure permanent funding for the bureau. Similar funding is secured for oversight bureaus at other DOE sites, including the Idaho National Laboratory and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, near Carlsbad.

Sheri Kotowski, of the EVEMG, said, "The bureau has been instrumental to helping the Embudo Valley to understand the extent of radioactive air emissions from LANL to our downwind communities. It's critical that their funding enable them to continue this essential mission."

Due to funding cuts, the bureau has been forced to cancel sampling trips along the Rio Grande. Also, the bureau's air monitoring program at LANL was completely disabled in June 2004.

Further, many samples that NMED collected in past years have been discarded due to lack of funds to analyze them. According to one NMED employee, 40 samples collected in 2003 were discarded and they are considering discarding samples from 2004.

The funding will support NMED's continued environmental monitoring and sampling. It will also support NMED's oversight of LANL's compliance with the order on consent, which requires LANL to investigate and clean up contaminated sites across the complex.

Amy Williams, of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, argued that, given that several pieces of legislation this year are attempting to restrict NMED's oversight of environmental emissions, it is important for the legislature to support one of its most effective bureaus. Proposed legislation would limit NMED's authority to set surface water standards greater than those of the federal government and place a cap on the amount that NMED can fine environmental violators.

Williams said, "We are concerned that if funding for the bureau is not provided, the residents of Northern New Mexico will lose a valuable resource for oversight of LANL emissions, which may result in greater impacts to public health and safety."

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