Open Letter To Sen. Tom Udall: Northern New Mexico Needs A Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement

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Dear Senator Udall

First, we want to thank you very much for standing on the right side of history by voting yes on the Sanders Amendment for the obscenely bloated FY 2020/2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA.) We really need this kind of leadership in the Senate and the House and especially in the midst of the suffering of so many in this country during the global pandemic. We were also pleased to see Congressman Lujan’s vote for the Lee/Pocan amendment, and have written to him as well with a message of appreciation for demonstrating leadership and asking for his support for a Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement (SWEIS) for Los Alamos National Laboratory’s (LANL) proposed plutonium pit operations expansion.

Unfortunately, Senator Heinrich, and Congresswomen Haaland and Torres-Small once again got it wrong by voting against these human-centered amendments in this extremely challenging era.

In the 75th year since the catastrophic and unnecessary nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we hope you will use your influence during your final months in the Senate as one of the most powerful human beings on earth, to follow in your great father’s footsteps and champion the needs of the planet and all of its inhabitants above corporate profiteering, and especially war profiteering, in a meaningful way.

On March 10th of this year over 750 petition signatures and informational packets from all around the Northern New Mexico regional communities were delivered to and discussed with your, Senator Heinrich’s, Congressman Lujan’s and Governor Lujan-Grisham’s staff members.

The petitions requested that our congressional delegation call on the Department of Energy (DOE) to conduct a SWEIS to study the impacts of LANL’s proposed expansion of plutonium pit operations. 

The petitions also called for a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for multiple sites but what we really need now, most of all, is a new LANL SWEIS! It is in the Northern New Mexico region where the greatest environmental and social impacts would be felt.

To date, we have received no responses.

Yesterday, NNSA issued a notice of intent to prepare a SWEIS for continued operation of the Livermore National Laboratory in California.  NNSA has also prepared a draft Environmental Impact Statement to evaluate the potential environmental impacts of producing plutonium pits at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

 In March of this year NNSA released its Draft Supplement Analysis (SA) for LANL in which it concluded that it had preliminarily determined that the proposed action does not constitute a substantial change from actions previously analyzed, and there is no significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns.” Therefore NNSA has “determined that no further NEPA documentation is required..”

Why on earth is LANL only getting a Supplement Analysis?

It is obvious that the circumstances are changing in a very big and very expensive way. 

This Supplement Analysis would excuse our government from doing any environmental review at all. It would be an irresponsible betrayal, not only of Northern New Mexicans, including those who are on LANL’s payroll, but of our whole country. LANL leadership, which has a terrible record on health and safety, and always incurs huge budget overruns, is trying to move forward without even any completed comprehensive plans. To the extent such plans do exist, they are being kept a secret from not only the public that will be impacted forever, but apparently also from our federal, state, tribal, and local leadership. As you may be aware, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) has said that the current Supplement Analysis does not adequately address environmental hazards (see their “Comments to National Nuclear Security Administration on March 2020 draft supplemental analysis of the 2008 Sitewide Environmental Impact Statement Supplemental Analysis for expanded pit production at Los Alamos National Labs”).

So, on behalf of the 750 citizens who signed these petitions and many more, we repeat the petition’s request. Please begin by demonstrating your leadership in requesting a SWEIS. If a requirement for a SWEIS were included in report language from the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, of which you are a powerful member, such language would bind the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and DOE. 

Also,  you could convince your New Mexico delegation colleagues to join you in writing a letter to the DOE requiring a SWEIS. Additionally you could write a letter together with Governor Lujan-Grisham. 

The people of our region and elsewhere are very concerned about LANL being allowed to move forward without even the very limited protection of transparency and standard environmental review.

With so much chaos in the world right now, we realize it must be nearly impossible to keep up on home town and other concerns; so for background, we’ve linked this June 29 letter from the Los Alamos Study Group (LASG) to the New Mexico Environment Department, which, as noted above, has also expressed concern over the lack of environmental review for the proposed LANL expansion. The letter explains why a SWEIS is necessary, as a first step, to protect us and to keep us safe.  It is a comprehensive factual overview of this complex issue, that is easy to understand, backed by extensive research and many years of study and experience.

 When you and your staff examine this letter I am sure you will reconsider your stated position that a Supplement Analysis is all we need.

It is not! We need a SWEIS!

Many thanks, and we look forward to your response.

Respectfully yours,
Suzanne Schwartz
Taosenos for Peaceful and Sustainable Futures