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          Front Page




N.M. Fights to Keep Landfill Report a Secret

By John Fleck
Journal Staff Writer
    The New Mexico Environment Department is fighting to keep secret a consultant's report on a Sandia National Laboratories radioactive waste landfill.
    The department is trying to overturn a ruling last month by the Attorney General's Office that the report "fit(s) squarely within the definition of a public record" under the state's Inspection of Public Records Act.
    At issue is an analysis done last year by the consulting firm TechLaw of the possibility of waste leaking from Sandia's Mixed Waste Landfill, an unlined landfill that contains various types of hazardous waste.
    Activists, led by the Albuquerque-based group Citizen Action, want the waste dug up and moved to a safer place. Sandia, with support from the New Mexico Environment Department, wants to leave the waste where it is, putting a permanent cover over the landfill to protect it from washing away or seeping down into groundwater.
    The 2006 TechLaw analysis involved a study done by Sandia about the risk of the landfill leaking.
    David McCoy, head of Citizen Action, filed a public records act request in January asking for the report. James Bearzi, head of NMED's Hazardous Waste Bureau, responded in a Feb. 12 letter that TechLaw's report was a "draft document" and therefore not subject to the public records law.
    Assistant Attorney General Lesley Lowe disagreed, ruling Aug. 2 in response to an appeal by McCoy, that the report should be made public.
    "When it was received and used by the Department," Lowe wrote in her ruling, "the report fit squarely within the definition of public record."
    The NMED formally notified McCoy on Wednesday that it was appealing Lowe's decision.