We were disappointed with the Albuquerque Journal’s Jan. 4 editorial, “The NM Right to Demand Accounting for Nuclear Waste,” praising the New Mexico Environment Department’s list of proposed changes to the WIPP Hazardous Waste Permit.
If implemented, these changes would massively strengthen the agency’s future authority over WIPP and other unrelated activities such as transportation, location of disposal sites, and activities at the site of waste generators. This could allow the state to halt shipments for a variety of reasons, including mere claims of someone’s problems. Many of the proposed permit terms fall well outside the state’s powers to regulate hazardous waste under federal or state law.
We also believe that many of these provisions, if implemented, could result in the premature closure of WIPP long before the mandatory cleanup mission is complete, resulting in the loss of a vital national asset and thousands of jobs.
For example, the NMED proposes a provision that would automatically revoke the state permit if certain changes were made to the federal state withdrawal law that defines the scope of WIPP. The Land Withdrawal Act is governed by the will of the United States Congress, the highest legislative authority in our country. Additional provisions in the area of ”accountability” include the need for the WIPP to monitor how many shipments come from Los Alamos compared to other nuclear waste producers, which is impractical, and for the WIPP to monitor progress on another repository for Track and report on transuranic waste that goes well beyond WIPP’s legal responsibilities.
Supporters of the NMED proposal cite other nuclear activities in New Mexico, such as the Trinity site and uranium mining, as justification for the need to set limits. They’re tough on WIPP, they say, because the federal government has ignored them in the past.
However, it is a mistake to lump the WIPP, which certainly offers a national solution, with these concerns from the outset. It’s also a mistake to ignore the numerous benefits, including the existence of two national laboratories, thousands of jobs and national clean-up successes, resulting from both the WIPP and New Mexico’s overall nuclear legacy.
It is also a mistake to abuse what is normally a neutral regulatory process to make these points clear.
We certainly get the impression that the residents of Carlsbad and the surrounding area had no voice when the New Mexico Department of the Environment drafted these proposed changes. We believe it is a mistake to dismiss the viewpoints of those who live and work near a facility.
It all boils down to WIPP having an incredible safety record in terms of transportation, storage and regulatory compliance. From a state perspective, it is very important that WIPP be allowed to proceed, as recent missions at Los Alamos mean WIPP must remain open to meet New Mexico’s own cleanup needs.
NMED’s attempt to weaponize their hazardous waste permit is not the right approach.