EPA Grants Comment Period on Surface Water Requirements at LANL

* The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently granted a 30-day comment period on requirements for monitoring surface water at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). EPA previously resisted granting a public comment period claiming that it is not required by law.

Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS), the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) and the Northern New Mexico Citizens' Advisory Board requested a comment period on the document, called a Federal Facility Compliance Agreement. The Department of Energy (DOE) supported public comment. The agreement comes as a result of negotiations about the Corrective Action Order, which was issued by NMED in 2002.

The order, which required LANL to investigate its contamination sources and develop a cleanup strategy, included a section detailing surface water monitoring requirements. In lieu of these, DOE proposed the agreement with EPA. Thus, the recently issued Order on Consent, which was developed to settle disputes created by the Corrective Action Order, does not include surface water monitoring requirements.

Although public oversight is inherent to the Order on Consent, EPA claimed that they did not want to set a precedent allowing public comment on such agreements. However, in a letter to EPA in September, Joni Arends, of CCNS, pointed out that EPA released a similar agreement regarding air monitoring at LANL for public comment in 1996. Arends argued that public oversight is necessary in order to ensure that the agreement does not overlook critical monitoring requirements.

Arends said, "We are pleased that EPA has decided to acknowledge the public's ability to participate meaningfully in surface water oversight at LANL. Such participation is critical not only for the protection of the Rio Grande, but also for public trust."

NMED is also pleased with EPA's decision. Jon Goldstein, of NMED, said, "It is something that we pushed for, and it is something that we are very happy EPA granted."

The draft agreement requires LANL to monitor surface and storm water runoff at 60 monitoring stations around LANL. The agreement is also meant to foster management of solid waste sites on the LANL property to minimize erosion and transport of contaminants from the sites by storm water runoff. These solid waste sites can include both waste storage and disposal areas and areas contaminated by operations, such as high explosives testing sites.

NMED Secretary Ron Curry said that such an agreement is critical to ensuring the success of the fence-to-fence cleanup requirements in the Order on Consent. He has refused to finalize the order until the agreement was reached.

EPA says that they are working closely with NMED to ensure that the agreement is satisfactory to the state. In a letter to CCNS, Richard Greene, regional administrator for EPA, said, "I would ... like to reassure you and the public that the Region has worked with [NMED] throughout the process of developing the provisions of the [agreement]. We have made tremendous efforts to address their concerns in reaching an agreement with DOE...."

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