BY MAIRE O’NEILL
New Mexico Environment Department and the Department of Energy Environmental Management officials are still at odds over milestones and targets for legacy waste cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory for FY2021 which began October 1, 2020.
DOE submitted its proposed changes for Appendix B of the 2016 Consent Order in August. Appendix B is where the annual milestones and targets are annotated. Since September, NMED officials have expressed their disappointment with the proposal calling it “inadequate”, “notably deficient” and “unacceptable”.
NMED Resource Protection Division Director Stephanie Stringer and NMED’s Permitting Manager for LANL Neelam Dhawan have both noted their concerns in various forums during the last quarter as the two parties entered dispute resolution phases outlined in the Consent Order. Neither party has disclosed the areas of dispute at issue however Stringer has said the DOE proposal would “further slow clean-up progress which is contrary to protecting public health and the environment”.
During last Wednesday’s virtual meeting of the Northern New Mexico Citizens Advisory Board, NMED’s Hazardous Waste Bureau Chief Kevin Pierard informed CAB members that Tier 1 of the dispute resolution process did not reach resolution and was now elevated to Tier 2 which involves negotiations between NMED Deputy Secretary Jennifer Pruett and DOE Environmental Management Los Alamos Field Office Manager Kirk Lachman.
“We had our first Tier 2 dispute resolution discussion this morning and we’re going to continue to have some work to do. We both have a little bit of work that we’re going to go back and work internally on,” Pierard said. “I believe we have made some progress but we still have some significant concerns that we have to overcome.”
If Tier 2 closes unsuccessfully, NMED says under the Consent Order it has the option of a lawsuit or going to mediation. There is also an option to extend Tier 2 if both parties agree.
“We’re close. We have made progress, but we’re not there yet,” Dhawan said.
CAB Chair Bob Hull of Los Alamos asked if DOE will be held to the targets for FY2021 that were previously agreed to. Pierard responded that the dispute is really impacting what NMED had planned for FY2021 and that he believed work is continuing under the proposal at a minimum that DOE had laid out.
“We are working towards consent order milestones that we had proposed originally plus the addition of R-72 thanks to the support of Congress in getting us the extra funding this year. We’re not stopping and waiting. We’re continuing along like we have an agreement and then we’ll have to tweak as we get closer,” Lachman said. “NMED has driven us to a number of milestones already through their leadership and we’re close. It’s not like we’re the Middle East here in warring factions. We’re just trying to get to consensus on all the items. I think there’s a success path there and as part of being a good neighbor, we’re doing our part by doing the work that we’re posed to do anyway.”
Pierard noted later that discussions between NMED and DOE have been “very collaborative”.
“It’s not like we’re at war with each other. We’re just trying to work some very difficult things out and we’re both working very hard to do that,” he said.