BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Northern New Mexico Citizens Advisory Board Chair Bob Hull expressed surprise Saturday at the New Mexico Environment Department’s announcement that it had filed a complaint against the Department Of Energy seeking to terminate the 2016 Consent Order for cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Hull said DOE and N3B presentations and updates made before the CAN from late 2020 through January kept the CAB aware of the ongoing mandated dispute resolution process between DOE EM-LA under the Consent Order.
“Information provided indicated that both sides were close to an agreement on the FY2021 milestones. NMED’s complaint states its rationale is that ‘NMED found the DOE Environmental Management Los Alamos Field Office’s 2021 Plan was inadequate due to a lack of substantive and appropriate clean-up targets for coming years’,” he said. “It is unfortunate that DOE and NMED could not work out their differences without legal intervention.”
Hull noted that former EM-LA Field Office Manager Doug Hintze explained many times that for better or worse, DOE’s funding allocated for environmental cleanup is the same funding that would be used for legal defense and punitive actions.
“I’m sure the CAB would like to know at least at an order of magnitude what the effect will be both on the DOE EM-LA budget and reduction in cleanup actions. The big question to me is how this action affects the CAB’s activities. I am sure that board members are wondering what environmental cleanup of existing milestones and targets will move forward with or without having NMED approval,” he said. “As the CAB chair I will be asking Lee Bishop, the Deputy Designated Federal Official who oversees the CAB, to address these and other related questions.”
The Los Alamos Reporter reached out Thursday to DOE EM-LA for a comment on the lawsuit but has not received a response.
When the CAB met virtually January 13, NMED Hazardous Waste Bureau Chief Kevin Pierard said that Tier 1 of the dispute resolution process did not reach resolution and had been elevated to Tier 2 which involved negotiations between NMED Deputy Secretary Jennifer Pruett and EM-LA Field Office Manager Kirk Lachman. Pierard noted at that time that the parties had made some progress but that there were still “some significant concerns” to overcome. Under the Consent Order, the parties had the option of going to court or mediation. A third option was to extend Tier 2 if both parties agreed.
Hull asked at that meeting 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. Lachman responded that DOE was working towards Consent Order milestones that had originally been proposed.
“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.”