Bush Administration Disbands NNSA Advisory Committee

NNSA Oversight of Tribes Prompts NMED to Request More Comment Time for MPF

* The Bush Administration this week quietly disbanded the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Advisory Committee. The Committee was comprised of academics, retired government officials and military leaders who provided independent oversight of the actions of NNSA and held public hearings and released public reports on nuclear weapons issues.

Although federal law requires the Committee to hold regular public meetings and publicly release its reports, neither had been done since May 2002. Federal statutes also require that, should such a Committee be disbanded, a notice must be posted in the Federal Register. No such notice was posted, however. Instead, a simple email alerted Committee members that the Committee had been dissolved.

Critics are concerned that the dissolution of the Committee will compromise transparency and public participation in NNSA's activities. Congressman Edward Markey, of the congressional taskforce on nonproliferation, said, "Instead of seeking balanced expert advice and analysis about this important topic, the Department of Energy has disbanded the one forum for honest, unbiased external review of its nuclear weapons policies."

Critics are also concerned because the dissolution comes just days before the Bush Administration is scheduled to meet at Strategic Command in Nebraska to discuss the controversial Nuclear Posture Review, in which the Administration advocates resumption of underground weapons testing. At the upcoming meeting, the Administration is also expected to discuss testing new tactical nuclear weapons, such as the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator and low-yield battlefield nuclear weapons.

Markey said, "The Bush Administration is considering policy changes that will alter the role of nuclear weapons in national defense. Given the importance and sheer complexity of the issues raised why was the only independent contemplative body studying nuclear weapons disbanded - and disbanded in such a surreptitious fashion?"

* New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) Secretary Ron Curry this week sent a letter to Jay Rose, NNSA's Document Manager of the Modern Pit Facility (MPF) project, requesting an extension of time for the public to comment on the Environmental Impact Statement for the MPF. Curry said that the extension is necessary because NNSA neglected to distribute the document to tribal leaders in New Mexico.

Curry said that the document, "was not provided to the Environment Departments of New Mexico's sovereign tribal entities in a timely manner. In fact, they did not receive this [document] until last week, limiting their ability to provide insightful comment."

Curry said further, "The State of New Mexico and the [NMED] strongly support the rights of our states' 22 separate and distinct tribal groups. NMED works closely with Pueblos, Tribes and the Navajo Nation on environmental issues of shared interest. We believe that this issue is one of the utmost importance and deserves thorough comment and review by all affected parties."

Jay Rose refused to comment on the issue, saying only that a decision about the extension would be made after the letter, and the issues raised therein, had gone through an appropriate review.

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