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New Mexico Science

Science, climate, weather and water from a New Mexico perspective

A request for EPA intervention in Kirtland cleanup: the documents

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Citizen Action, an Albuquerque group, filed a request with the federal Environmental Protection Agency last week asking the agency to intervene in the cleanup of a massive Kirtland Air Force Base fuel spill.

My full story from this morning’s paper is here:

Here’s the group’s request:

 

Here is the New Mexico Environment Department’s response to my questions about the issue, quoted in full:

The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) partners and consults with the EPA on many environmental clean-up efforts. NMED maintains an open line of communication with the EPA should they suggest or recommend actions in the Kirtland clean-up efforts. However, due to the time involved to work through the EPA’s Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) process, NMED believes enacting CERCLA on this effort would lead to devastating environmental and economic impacts to Albuquerque and its residents.

1.) If the EPA enacted a CERCLA process, it would essentially condemn Albuquerque’s drinking water and lead to probable contamination based on time estimations required to “start over” the characterization of the underground fuel plume. Because CERCLA follows time consuming processes, ongoing interim work now underway such as Soil Vapor Extraction and Well Pump Testing would be terminated. The halt of current operations would allow the plume to continue to progress to the Ridgecrest Drinking Water Wells. NMED estimates if nothing is done to aggressively attack the plume, within 5 to 7 years the Ridgecrest Drinking Water Wells would be contaminated. CERCLA requirements would force federal regulators to recharacterize the plume and duplicate work already done at the site. It would take years just to get back to the current phase of the clean-up process. If the goal is to aggressively clean-up the spill (which NMED is currently doing), why would any citizen or organization want to shelve years of work simply to start the process all over again?

2.) If the EPA enacted a CERCLA process, all decisions on characterization and clean-up would be administered by EPA staff out of Dallas who lack the kind of local knowledge that has been acquired through years of analysis by NMED staff. The local presence of NMED allows for weekly meetings between the Air Force, EPA, ABCWUA, City of Alb., VA Hospital and NMED. These meetings have been taking place over the past several months. Regularly scheduled meetings will continue to ensure that significant progress is being made to remediate the aquifer. Likewise, NMED does confer with EPA on a weekly basis and have employed their expertise in developing a groundwater model to assist in the clean-up efforts. We have found the assistance of the EPA to be invaluable.

3.) NMED is clearly the regulator in this clean-up effort. It is the legal opinion of NMED that EPA does not have jurisdiction, as the Kirtland Bulk Fuels Facility Spill has yet to contaminate Albuquerque’s Drinking Water Wells. Likewise, the EPA has declined to get involved with a CERCLA effort after similar requests have been made in the past by citizens groups:

August 28, 2012 – Citizen Action New Mexico request for EPA oversight

October 4, 2012 – EPA letter to Citizen Action New Mexico on the Bulk Fuels Facility Spill

4.) If the area of the underground spill were declared a Superfund Site under the CERCLA process, the stigma of such an action would have devastating economic consequences to local residents. Current values of homes in the area would plummet. Likewise, the ability for Albuquerque to attract any kind of expanding or relocating major company would be greatly compromised. The first questions any prospective business would ask: Why do we want to locate our business to bring people and jobs into a Superfund site?

As noted in the Environment Department’s response, Citizen Action in the past has made a similar request, which EPA has previously turned down. Here is the group’s inital request, filed in the summer of 2012:

EPA turned the request down in October 2012:

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