For Immediate Release
New Mexico Environmental Law Center
Nuclear Watch New Mexico – Santa Fe, NM
A United States District Court judge has ruled that a lawsuit filed by Nuclear Watch New Mexico (NukeWatch) can move forward. The lawsuit is based on thirteen (13) violations of corrective actions Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS) and the Department of Energy (DOE) failed to complete under a 2005 Consent Order governing cleanup that the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) fought for under former Governor Bill Richardson.
Fines for failure to complete the corrective tasks are $37,000 per violation per day. Violations for failing to complete the tasks started as early as June 2014 and now total well over $300 million.
The judge in allowing the lawsuit on civil penalties to move forward stated that DOE/LANS had failed to show in their legal and factual analysis that violations were unlikely to recur.
Jon Block, representing NukeWatch as a staff attorney at the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, said “We are gratified that the Court is allowing the lawsuit on civil penalties to move forward.”
In 2002, the NMED determined that decades of contamination at Los Alamos National Laboratory constituted an “imminent and substantial endangerment to health and the environment” and sought to compel cleanup at the Lab. DOE/LANS counter-sued, and in 2005 the parties agreed to a Consent Order specifying that DOE/LANS would characterize the extent and nature of the contamination, assess alternatives for effective cleanup of the contamination, and implement cleanup. Gov. Martinez came into office in 2011, after which DOE/LANS compliance with the Consent Order effectively stopped.
NukeWatch filed its original complaint in May 2016, followed by an amended complaint in July 2016. That was in response to a June 2016 announcement by NMED and DOE/LANS that they had entered into a new Consent Order that rendered the 2005 Consent Order invalid.
The judge did grant DOE/LANS and NMED’s motions to dismiss that part of NukeWatch’s complaint asking for declaratory and injunctive relief (in general seeking to have the 2016 Consent Order declared invalid). However, the judge specifically noted that the revised 2016 Consent Order replaced enforceable goals in the 2005 Order with unenforceable goals.
Jay Coghlan, NukeWatch director, commented “Susana Martinez’ administration shamefully gave away the store to the Los Alamos Lab, forgiving hundreds of millions of dollars in potential penalties for clear violations of an enforceable cleanup order, at the very time when New Mexico was facing a serious budget crisis. We are very pleased that the issue of penalties can now go forward in court, which should bring some accountability toward achieving comprehensive Lab cleanup that would produce hundreds of high-paying jobs.”
See NukeWatch’s Amended Complaint here
See Judge Judith Herrera’s decision here
Jay Coghlan: Nuclear Watch New Mexico
Jon Block, Staff Attorney: New Mexico Environmental Law Center