Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
A New Mexico legislator is urging the state’s Environment Department to approve a measure by the end of the year that would ultimately increase the amount of nuclear waste that can still be emplaced at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad.
Rep. Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad, submitted a public comment on the proposal on Sept. 20 that also expressed wishes that no public hearing be held on the requested changes.
“In the event NMED (New Mexico Environment Department) does decide to add a hearing, I request that the hearing be held in Carlsbad, the city closest to WIPP,” Brown wrote.
The NMED did decide to hold a hearing in Carlsbad on Oct. 23.
“I just think we need to have (NMED Secretary Butch Tongate) make a decision, and I didn’t see any reason to have another delay, in terms of expense and all that, as well,” Brown said Thursday.
Brown’s public comments did little to assuage the concerns of Don Hancock, director of the Nuclear Waste Program at the Albuquerque-based Southwest Research and Information Center, who has said he believes officials are aiming to “fast-track” the request through the system before the next gubernatorial administration comes in.
But if it’s the Republican candidate, U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, who moves into the mansion, the request will likely find a warm reception.
A spokesman for Pearce said the candidate supports the measure.
“From his perspective, WIPP’s volume of waste limitations is based on actual waste, not empty space,” wrote Kevin Sheridan, a campaign spokesman, in an email. “Including the empty space within the disposal drum as volume of waste seems like an artificial barrier to the success of the site and its critical national security mission.”
A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the Democratic candidate and current front-runner, according to a recent Journal poll, said the decision should not be rushed, but didn’t say whether she supports the request.
“Any permit modification proposal must be thoroughly vetted,” campaign spokesman James Hallinan wrote in an email. “This review must include and engage all interested stakeholders.”
Thirty-six comments on the modification request, most of which oppose the change, were filed with the NMED by the Sept. 20 deadline.
Two public meetings were held in Carlsbad and Santa Fe earlier in the year.
Hancock also said he opposes choosing Carlsbad as the location of the hearing, at which technical testimony will be given.
He said past hearings related to WIPP have had the technical testimony given in Santa Fe.
“Nobody from Carlsbad requested a public hearing on the record,” Hancock said. “I would be delighted to have numerous public comment sessions in Carlsbad, Santa Fe and, frankly, in other locations, but technical testimony should be in Santa Fe.”