Coalition looking for more cleanup dollars

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Lab > Obama’s budget proposal shorts environmental remediation commitments

By Arin McKenna

President Barack Obama’s proposed budget took center stage at the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities meeting Friday.

The administration is requesting $1.96 billion for Los Alamos National Laboratory this year, an increase of $135 million. However, only $$219 million of that amount is for environmental cleanup, down from $235 million in FY2013.

The Department of Energy has made a similar request, asking for a total environmental management (EM) budget of $5.622 billion, with only $220 million earmarked for LANL.

Coalition Chair David Coss, also the Santa Fe mayor, pointed out that the administration’s budget increases spending for the nuclear weapons program but decreases expenditures for science, nonproliferation and environmental remediation.

“The Environmental Department convinced me two years ago that we shouldn’t fine, we shouldn’t sue, we should work with people in good faith,” Coss said. “We’re not getting anywhere. We need to go to Washington in June and push for what to the federal government is a trivial amount of money.”

Coss pointed out that outgoing New Mexico Environment Department Secretary David Martin estimated that $250 million a year was necessary to meet the consent agreement for environmental cleanup, and that none of the governmental agencies has contradicted that number.

“Since we formed this coalition, they’ve shorted that commitment about $159 million,” Coss said. “And I think what frustrates me is that in the federal sense, this is not very much money. So I’m not understanding why the federal government can’t keep its commitment to the people of New Mexico on this particular commitment. It’s not a lot of money but it has a big effect on New Mexico.”

“We do not believe that the funding request meets the framework agreement, nor will it permit DOE to be in compliance with the milestones set for Los Alamos,” said Executive Director DeAnza Sapien at the close of her report. “This provides a snapshot of why our trip to Washington as a delegation is critical.”

New Mexico U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, along with Rep. Ben Ray Lujan are requesting $255 million for environmental remediation.

Aggravating the situation was the fact that FY2013 actual cleanup funding is now at $173.673 million ($188 million minus sequestration amount). FY2012 funding was just over $188 million.

The anticipated impacts from these reduced amounts are:
• Shutdown of waste processing at LANL in June 2013
• DOE may lay off as many as 140 New Mexicans who have just been trained to process LANL waste.
• The commitment to New Mexico’s 3706 Transuranic (TRU) waste campaign is going to falter.

DOE’s FY2013 budget for EM is approximately $5 million. New Mexico’s congressional delegation is pushing DOE to reprogram funds toward environmental cleanup in the state.

Sapien pointed out that the current push to send high-level nuclear waste from the Hanford, Wash. facility to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico provides some leverage. Gov. Susana Martinez and the congressional delegation plan to argue that the federal government must honor its commitments to New Mexico before any waste is shipped from Hanford.

“That is a point of leverage for Northern New Mexico. We are not really in a position to be taking in more waste when we don’t even have the budgets to be taking care of this legacy waste and this TRU waste in New Mexico,” Sapien said.

An audience member from Carlsbad pointed out that fines could be levied against the federal government if it fails to meet its commitments. NMED has the authority to channel those into a special fund, which could be used for environmental remediation.

Michelle Jacquie Ortiz, representing Udall’s office, asked the coalition to provide a comparison of what the cost would be if New Mexico exercised its authority to levy fines versus increasing the budget to $255 million. Sapien promised to make that request to NMED.

The FY2014 budget will be the focal point when a delegation from the coalition travels to Washington D.C. in June.

“Our number one priority is to get the DOE environmental cleanup funds at a higher level so important environmental cleanup work that really impacts us can get to a reasonable amount,” Sapien said.