A large group of local residents listens as NMED Department of Energy Oversight Bureau staff explain their activities. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
NMED Department of Energy Oversight Bureau Chief Susan Lucas Kamat introduces the Los Alamos team Monday evening at the community engagement meeting at Fuller Lodge. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
The New Mexico Environment Department’s Department of Energy Oversight Bureau will not be leaving Los Alamos, NMED officials announced Monday evening during a community engagement meeting at Fuller Lodge.
Resource Protection Division Director Stephanie Stringer said the current status is to pursue a request for proposal to keep the bureau on the hill in Los Alamos County.
Cabinet Secretary James Kenney welcomed a large crowd to the first quarterly meeting saying the Department is very serious about engaging with the community about what they’re doing.
“There’s no black box in what we’re doing. It’s all out in the open. You’re as welcome to participate in anything you can do as you have time for,” he said. He asked people to let the Department know what they would to hear at the following meetings.
“We’re very clear that we’re the regulators – we’re very clear on that. Your feedback is important feedback for us on how we’re regulating,” Kenney said.
Stringer immediately addressed the contemplated move to Santa Fe which she said was clearly an important topic because they had a lot of feedback. She explained how with a new administration and a new management team coming in, the Department had found itself behind the ball with the lease for the current oversight bureau which was due to expire June 30.
Stringer said the Department began following its required process and that’s when they began hearing the feedback.
Secretary Kenney promised better tracking of leases going forward and said it was very unfortunate that the Department “found ourselves here in the way it played out with the community”.
“The thing that’s really kind of suffering with this is the morale of the staff folks up here who heard about it in a way that we didn’t intend for them to hear about it. I have apologized to them many times as individuals and I apologize to them again in front of all of you because I believe civil service is the epitome of what one can do in their life and these are people who do that,” he said.
Kenney said having to explain the process is very cumbersome even when explaining it to NMED employees.
“You would think that the rules would say, ‘Talk to your employees’. That’s more of a human nature part of this. The rules are more like make some decisions, contemplate what you want to do, consult with the union. 30 days later you’re now able to talk to affected employees about it. It’s not exactly a process that warms your heart, it’s somewhat cold,” he said.
LANL retirees and others at the meeting spoke of the need for the oversight bureau to be close to the Laboratory especially during emergencies such as the Cerro Grande Fire. While routine impacts are well within regulatory compliance levels they felt that especially in the early times of the fire it was unknown if the Laboratory was having an impact on air emissions or public health.
“The Bureau provided an independent voice in providing air quality information to the public. The key element of them functioning efficiently and effectively during that time was their proximity to LANL,” said Jean Dewart.
Others noted that proximity is critical to getting the job done and that in order to monitor a particularly large, complex facility, being sited next to it is absolutely critical. Springer noted that clearly there was a lot of feedback that the bureau should stay on the hill and that’s the path NMED is taking.
Asked about the funding for the oversight program, Stringer said DOE does provide the funding for the work of the Bureau adding that it’s important to acknowledge the work that the DOE oversight bureau does with the two grants it receives from the DOE.
“There are other parts of the Department that do the regulatory enforcement and compliance activity that are funded differently,” Stringer said.
She said DOE approves the scope of work associated with the grant activities.
“That’s not to say that we can’t supplement the work they do with other funding sources depending on eligibility requirements, but that is their role,” she said. She also noted that DOE will not have a say on where the request for proposal is or “where our employees sit”.
Following the meeting Secretary Kenney told the Los Alamos Reporter the Department had a lot of input from Los Alamos residents.
“I got a lot of emails and this meeting was commensurate with what I thought that we would have – a lot of people with a lot of strong opinions for keeping the bureau here,” he said.
Kenney said people didn’t call and say they wanted the tax base kept here. They called and were concerned about the environmental impact and the public health impact,” he said.
He concluded by saying how nice it was to see how much the oversight office team is respected in Los Alamos “particularly in front of their boss”.
The next step is for NMED to advertise the request for proposals for a location.
NMED Resource Protection Division Director Stephanie Stringer speaks at Monday’s community engagement meeting at Fuller Lodge. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
New Mexico Environment Department Cabinet Secretary James Kenney answers questions at Monday evening’s community engagement meeting at Fuller Lodge. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com