Citizen Action Counter Sues NMED over Sandia Reports

Citizen Action, an Albuquerque-based public interest group, filed a counter lawsuit against the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) over the release of essential reports about the Mixed Waste Landfill at Sandia National Laboratory. NMED filed suit against Citizen Action after the New Mexico Attorney General determined that the release of the reports "fit squarely within the definition of a public record [which is] subject to inspection."

TechLaw, a contractor to NMED, prepared the reports. They studied the long-term risk of the landfill leaking into the sole source drinking water aquifer located below the Cold War waste dump of over 700,000 cubic feet of radioactive and hazardous waste.

Nancy Simmons, the attorney for Citizen Action, stated, "The New Mexico Environment Department has a habit of trying to quell dissent and debate, both inside and outside the Department. Now that the Attorney General has ordered them to provide heretofore secret documents to Citizen Action about what they're doing or not doing to clean up the hazardous and radioactive waste dump at Sandia Labs, the Department has turned around and sued Citizen Action. This is apparently in an effort to get my client to back down. It won't work. The citizens of New Mexico have an absolute right to observe their government in action. Citizen Action will go to court [] to protect that right. The TechLaw reports they're protecting from public view were paid for by tax dollars; we all have a right to see what we bought."

Tannis Fox, an NMED attorney, said that the reports serve as the foundation for NMED's decision to allow Sandia to install a cap over the landfill.

Citizen Action is very concerned about how the decision to install a cap was made and how decisions are being made in a piecemeal fashion about the long-term monitoring of the waste in the dump. They filed a formal complaint with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in September. Citizen Action stated in the complaint that "NMED and Sandia are engaged in the ongoing development of a piecemeal long-term monitoring plan which involves numerous documents and including planned construction [of the cap] prior to the public's opportunity for review and comment of the several plans." Public review and comment were required in the NMED Final Order allowing for the construction of the landfill cap. Further, EPA guidance requires "early, open and continuous involvement of the public" when these kinds of decisions are being made.

NMED has held a few public technical meetings about the Mixed Waste Landfill, but these were not public hearings, which allow for cross-examination of witnesses and a right to appeal the decision to the courts.

In the counter lawsuit, Citizen Action asked the Court to order NMED to release all the TechLaw reports to Citizen Action and to hold a public hearing about Sandia’s plan for the Mixed Waste Landfill. They also requested that the TechLaw reports be included in the public hearing record and that the TechLaw staff be available for cross-examination by Citizen Action and members of the public.

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