*DOE to sue New Mexico and yank highway funds over WIPP regulations

*Federal Judge orders DOE to comply with Freedom of Information Act

*Study finds elevated cancer rates in atomic weapons test participants

*In a 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.

*Researchers 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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