Incoming chair of the Northern New Mexico Citizens Advisory Board Dr. Stanley Riveles of Taos, far right, chats with incoming vice chair Cherylin Atcitty, Environmental Program Manager at Taos Pueblo and board member Michael Valerio. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Dr. Stanley Riveles of Taos took over Wednesday as chair of the Northern New Mexico Citizens Advisory Board at the board’s quarterly meeting in Santa Fe.
During his opening remarks, Riveles said environmental clean-up is a decades-long program that no single CAB, much less chair, can see through to conclusion.
“For this reason, building the CAB’s integrity and independence on this long journey should be a major task of any officers. I believe that the board’s relationships with the Department of Energy Environment Management, with the contractor N3B and the CAB staff are good and responsive. As chair, I would build on the work of my predecessors and colleagues to sustain the CAB’s mission in environmental oversight and community service,” Riveles said.
Riveles said besides process, the CAB has a public responsibility to play its role to achieve the specific environmental goals set forth in detail in the Consent Order.
He said since joining the CAB, one of the chief criticisms he hears is that the targets set forth in the consent order are being continually stretched into the future. He said critics want them to be legally binding, but that a main reason for this “bow wave” effect is tight budgets – budgets that are established in Washington, DC by Congress and are out of the control of New Mexico state legislators and executives.
“This has been our ‘Catch-22’,” Riveles said. “But circumstances may be changing to break out of this bind. One main reason is the healthy LANL EM budget of $220 million for 2019. This is well above what the Administration requested and reflects what out New Mexico Representatives in Congress sought. While not an increase over 2018 as such, the appropriation was passed before the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1. This gives EM more control over planning and outlays.”
He said the DOE policies announced by Assistant Secretary for the Office of Environmental Management Anne White are intended to promote acceleration of clean-up goals. He said White focused on “end states” – either completion of clean-up mission or achieving manageable mid-term goals.
“The idea is to use financial incentives and technological opportunities and technological opportunities to accelerate clean-up programs on a site-by-site, project-by-project basis,” Riveles said. He said White has said clean-up nationally represents a huge governmental liability – hundreds of billions – and that accelerating and completing clean-up with more and more reliable funding can save billions.
“The question we can ask is how these new dollars and policies can be reflected in the advancement of the goals and acceleration of the timelines in the Consent Order? How can we influence the priorities and timing of the Consent Order was raised at the last meeting. EM and the New Mexico Environment Department will be shaping changes to the Consent Order for 2020 over the winter and spring,” he said.
Riveles said he would like to recommend the CAB focus its efforts over the next several months on how best it can participate in this part of the process, possibly by establishing a special task force.
“Preparation on our part will be key. We have been briefed on the Consent Order in the past, but we have not been active participants. To be active and constructive, we have to increase our understanding. This includes being better informed on the geography of the clean-up problem and how the priorities are established,” he said.
Riveles said the entry of the new contractor N3B on the scene with new players offers opportunities for greater engagement and transparency for the CAB. Fostering cooperation with N3B now, during the early stages of their contractual work, can help advance CAB clean-up priorities down the road.
“Furthermore, the support of N3B is central to the CAB’s efforts to unlock more educational, technical and employment opportunities for the region’s communities,” he concluded.
Riveles took over Wednesday from former chair Gerard Martinez y Valencia. A 30-year veteran of the U.S. State Department, Riveles and his wife Chris retired to Taos in 2010.
Note: The NNMCAB was chartered in 1997 to provide citizen input to DOE. For more information, call Menice Santistevan, NNMCAB executive director, 505.995.0393 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.