New Mexico Appeals Court Expects Waste Volume Status Report Soon


The New Mexico Court of Appeals expects a status report by July 31 on mediation between the parties in litigation over changes to the way the Department of Energy calculates the underground volume of transuranic material at its Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad.

The mediation began last month between representatives of DOE, the New Mexico Environment Department, and the advocacy groups Nuclear Watch New Mexico and the Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC). The state appeals court routinely requires parties to go to mediation in cases involving state agencies before a lawsuit proceeds to trial, says Don Hancock, director of the SRIC nuclear waste safety program. He declined to elaborate on the status of mediation.

In December, then-New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Butch Tongate approved a revised hazardous waste permit allowing DOE to stop recording waste under the 1992 WIPP Land Disposal Act based on the size of the outer disposal container. The change, effective Jan. 20, means empty spaces and packing material between drums within larger containers are no longer recorded as waste under the federal legislation.

The retroactive change cuts the official total of transuranic waste at WIPP from roughly one-half to one-third of its 176,000-cubic-meter limit.

The watchdog groups, which claim the Land Withdrawal Act does not allow for two separate methods of counting waste and the Tongate decision is legally wrong, appealed the state decision on Jan. 23.

Meanwhile, the Energy Department is scheduled to host its latest WIPP Town Hall public forum on July 11. The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. Mountain Time at Carlsbad City Hall.

With former DOE Carlsbad Field Office Manager Todd Shrader having relocated to Washington, D.C., to serve as the No. 2 official at the agency’s Office of Environmental Management, field office deputy Kirk Lachman has been appointed the acting manager pending a formal posting of the opening, an Energy Department spokesperson said.

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