CARLSBAD – A New Mexico Environment Department official testified at a public hearing Wednesday that the department recommends accepting most of the changes proposed by the U.S. Department of Energy concerning waste volume calculation at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southeast New Mexico.
The hearing on a proposed Permit Modification Request continued into its second day on Wednesday with testimony by the New Mexico Environment Department’s WIPP Staff Manager Ricardo Maestas.
While the NMED does agree with the reasoning behind the calculation change, it does oppose some of the language in the permit modification request submitted by the DOE and WIPP’s managing and operating contractor Nuclear Waste Partnership LLC (NWP).
Chief among those concerns is the DOE’s request to remove language from the permit with the NMED Hazardous Waste Bureau that specifies the volume limit of waste at WIPP as 6.2 million cubic feet, per the federal Land Withdrawal Act.
The permittees – DOE and NWP – are seeking to change how the volume counted toward the Land Withdrawal Act limit is made. The NMED’s Hazardous Waste Bureau permit would continue to count waste the old way – that is, counting the volume of the outermost container – to satisfy Environmental Protection Agency requirements.
NMED must permit each of WIPP’s Hazardous Waste Disposal Units, commonly known as panels. The NMED will continue to use the outermost packaging to track how much waste is in each panel.
But Maestas said the 6.2 million cubic feet language is vital to ensuring that the state follows federal law when it permits new waste disposal areas in the underground, so NMED must continue to track volumes calculated using both methodologies.
“That’s the real problem that we face. We can’t approve Hazardous Waste Disposal Units in a bubble,” said NMED counsel Jennifer Hower after Wednesday’s proceedings.
The DOE has argued that the language on the federal requirements does not belong in the permit with the state.
Other interested parties have expressed concern that the removal of the language could represent a relinquishing of authority by NMED.
Hower said ideally, the permit modification will be approved under current Environment Secretary Butch Tongate.
“If he has an outstanding hearing, he doesn’t want to leave it for someone else,” Hower said. “Not because he doesn’t think they can handle it, but that’s not an appropriate procedural thing to do. The secretary who it starts under, it really should finish under.”
Tongate’s term will end Dec. 31 as a new administration takes over.
The hearing continues today.