*DOE to sue New
Mexico and yank highway funds over WIPP regulations
*Federal Judge orders
DOE to comply with Freedom of Information Act
elevated cancer rates in atomic weapons test participants
move that blatantly pits the State Department of Transportation
against the State Environment Department, DOE Secretary Bill Richardson
said that he plans to sue the State of New Mexico and yank up
to $20 million each year in highway funding over what he calls
an "unfriendly" WIPP permit.
As a congressman, Richardson
advertised himself as a "fighter for Northern New Mexico." Now,
as a DOE Secretary threatening a lawsuit against the State, he
appears ready to fight against all of New Mexico. According to
Richardson, the recently issued State hazardous waste permit for
WIPP will cost the federal government an additional $33 million.
Richardson wants to offset this figure by redirecting money originally
budgeted for highway work along the WIPP route. Environment Department
spokesman Nathan Wade contends that the $33 million figure is
inflated. According to Wade, the DOE is trying to punish the State
for seeking to regulate WIPP. Wade contends that the threatened
withdrawal of highway funding is "extortion." Said Wade, "The
fundamental problem is that the Department of Energy doesn't want
WIPP to be regulated by the State of New Mexico. They want WIPP
to be unregulated, and so they're pissed."
The DOE is upset over a permit provision requiring
WIPP contractor Westinghouse to post $110 million in financial
assurance for closing the repository. Greg Lewis, head of the
Environment Department's groundwater bureau, contends that financial
assurance is necessary. "We've got a 50-year track record with
the Atomic Energy Commission and the Department of Energy creating
tremendous messes and not cleaning them up in a timely manner,"
stated Lewis. "Their argument is always that they're limited by
budget and they don't have the money."
Richardson disagrees. Frustrated
by what he calls the "added burdens" of the State WIPP permit,
Richardson asked Governor Gary Johnson to intervene on the DOE's
behalf, a request that has gone unfulfilled. According to Johnson
spokeswoman Diane Kinderwater, the governor believes "that requiring
financial surety is the right thing to do for New Mexico. And
he said that if he didn't require this surety, he probably would
have been sued by the other side -- and successfully."
*U.S. Magistrate Don Svet has ruled that
the Energy Department, like other federal agencies, must comply
with the Freedom of Information Act. Judge Svet ruled on a lawsuit
filed by Santa Fe-based Los Alamos Study Group when the DOE failed
to respond to a document request. Svet's ruling gives the DOE
20 days to comply with the Study Group's request. The documents,
some of which are reportedly classified, cover topics ranging
from explosives testing of nuclear weapons components at Los Alamos
to safety analyses of a Lab facility. The DOE is allowed to delete
nuclear weapons secrets from released documents.
According to the Study Group's attorney,
Steve Sugarman, the ruling is "a wake-up call to the Department
of Energy that it is not above the law. We've seen defense after
defense raised by the Department of Energy to shield itself from
the obligation to provide information to the public. Judge Svet
has shot down those defenses one by one every time that they've
been raised," said Sugarman. This ruling is the third such victory
for the Los Alamos Study Group.
have found unexpectedly high death rates for nasal and prostate
cancer among soldiers who took part in atomic weapons tests. According
to a study released by the National Academy of Sciences' Institute
of Medicine, increased rates for these two cancers had never before
been reported in correlation with radiation exposure. The study
investigated the causes and rates of death among nearly 70,000 soldiers
who participated in aboveground nuclear weapons tests at the Nevada
Test Site and in the South Pacific. A regional analysis of the data
revealed that participants in tests at the Nevada Test Site had
a leukemia death rate 50% higher than soldiers in similar units
who did not participate. The study did not examine non-fatal cancer
and leukemia incidence rates.
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