Citizen Action New Mexico Wins Release of Public Report

November 13, 2009

Citizen Action New Mexico recently gained access to a 2006 report being held by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) about the migration of contaminants to groundwater below the Sandia National Laboratory Mixed Waste Landfill. The report was prepared by TechLaw, Inc., an employee-owned company that serves the public sector. The Environment Department sued Citizen Action seeking to withhold this report that reviewed a computer model that was written by Sandia to assure the public that radioactive, hazardous and toxic wastes from the Mixed Waste Landfill would not contaminate Albuquerque's drinking water.

Dave McCoy, Director of Citizen Action said, "NMED secrecy put Citizen Action and the public at a disadvantage in proceedings held to determine if it would be safe to leave the dump's cancer-causing, long-lived radionuclides, solvents and heavy metals under a dirt cover in unlined pits and trenches. NMED ran interference to avoid public scrutiny until Sandia Labs could complete installation of the dirt cover rather than excavate the dump's 720,000 cubic feet of radioactive and hazardous wastes above Albuquerque's drinking water."

The Mixed Waste Landfill is located above Albuquerque's only aquifer on the East Mesa in a rapidly growing urban area next to the Mesa del Sol residential development and near a major entertainment center. The Landfill holds Cold War waste generated from almost 30 years of nuclear weapons experiments and is buried in unlined trenches.

Before the Environment Department filed its lawsuit, Citizen Action requested an opinion from the New Mexico Attorney General, who issued two decisions that the TechLaw report fell under the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act and required it to be released to the public.

Daniel Sanchez, First District Court judge in Santa Fe, who ruled for Citizen Action, heard the matter. In his decision, he said, "Public business is the public's business. The people have the right to know. Freedom of information about public records and proceedings is their just heritage. Citizens must have the legal right to investigate the conduct of their affairs."

Nancy Simmons represents Citizen Action. She said, "What was the point of the Environment Department to spend a huge amount of taxpayer dollars, more money than dozens of New Mexico taxpayers combined make in a year, to generate and hide this report from the public and to sue my client in court to block its release?"

During the court proceedings, it was discovered that there are literally hundreds of similar reports at the Environment Department covering technical issues at sites in New Mexico, such as Triassic Park, a hazardous waste facility located east of Roswell, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant and Los Alamos National Laboratory. All of these reports are being withheld from the public.

For more information, please contact Citizen Action New Mexico at (505) 262-1862 or Citizen Action is a project of the New Mexico Community Foundation.

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