Governor ratchets up pressure for more cleanup funding--Video Extra

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By John Severance

Gov. Susana Martinez wants that transuranic waste off the hill.


And on Wednesday, she ratcheted up pressure on the federal government, joining the New Mexico Congressional delegation in asking for another $40 million so LANL can complete its 3706 TRU Waste Campaign on time.

Early last year, the Department of Energy and the New Mexico Environment Department negotiated a framework agreement that would complete the job of shipping 3,706 cubic meters of transuranic waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad. 

Some of that money already has been allocated as the Department of Energy has agreed to shift money from existing accounts to allocate $19 million to the cleanup. Martinez and New Mexico’s congressional delegation is also asking for $21 million to be reallocated from the National Nuclear Security Administration’s budget. 

Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) wrote various Congressional Committees urging them to approve the request without delay.

Martinez also said not only would the increased funding help the lab reach its June 2014 deadline to get the waste off the hill, but it would also help save the jobs of about 120 LANL subcontractors who are working on the project.

LANL’s Jeff Mousseau, who is the assistant director of environmental programs, said shipments are on schedule since the inception of the framework agreement. Mousseau estimated that the lab has shipped 39 percent of the 3,706 cubic meters to WIPP.

According to projections by the lab, close to 600 cubic meters will be shipped in the third quarter of FY 2013, which will get the lab to 53 percent of its goal.

But without the funding, it will be a different story.

“Without the money, that deadline is in jeopardy,” Mousseau said. 

And that does not sit well with Martinez, who said there is no room for negotiation as part of the June 2014 deadline.

“Most of the waste has been sitting here since the 2000 Cerro Grande Fire and little had been done,” Martinez said.  “Fines and penalties can be imposed, and they are hefty fines and penalties for not meeting the agreement.”

Martinez reiterated that missing the deadline would be “unacceptable.”

“The federal government needs to recognize that we have a framework agreement in place,” she said. “Every time a fire gets near LANL, there’s great concern. That’s why it’s so imperative to get it off the ground and into WIPP where it’s safe.” 

Martinez said the framework agreement has another facet to it.

“The framework agreement also ensures that ongoing ground water protection efforts remain a top priority of DOE and commits DOE to ensuring that storm water runoff from LANL and surrounding areas does not adversely affect local drinking water systems, including the Buckman Diversion Project in Santa Fe. Although much work is yet to be done, we have made great progress in the last year as a result of the collaboration between the state and DOE.”

The lab landed in the smack in the middle of the budget crunch in terms of cleanup funds when sequestration took effect in March.

The Obama Administration requested $239 million for LANL cleanup in the fiscal year 2013 budget. However, a continuing budget resolution froze the cleanup funding level at $189 million and sequestration cuts further reduced that figure to $173 million.

The framework agreement was negotiated after the Las Conchas Fire in 2011, which came within three and one-half miles of TA-54 where the waste is being staged and packaged.

“During my visits (during and after the fire), I was alarmed by the threat posed by the remaining high-risk TRU waste to the citizens of Los Alamos and our state. 

“In response to this concern, immediately after the fire, I directed NMED to work directly with the DOE to reprioritize their cleanup activities at the Los Alamos site and to negotiate an expedited removal of the remaining above-ground waste.

“And with New Mexico facing the worst drought the state has experienced in 118 years, I remain just as concerned today about the risk of wildfires and the threat to our precious ground water and drinking waster resources. These threats will persist until the contamination at LANL is permanently and safely remediated. Finally, I am also concerned about the financial hardship that would be felt by NM contractors and their families, should layoffs be required as a result of insufficient funding for these critical cleanup efforts.”

Martinez has also talked with NNSA officials and Vice President Joe Biden about the funding request.  


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