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Friday, April 29, 2011

Community Groups Negotiate Historic Clean Water Act Settlement with LANL

From Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety:
Community groups and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) reached a final negotiated settlement agreement this week that resolves a three-year legal dispute over contaminated stormwater runoff emanating from the Lab. The settlement came after two years of negotiations among community groups, LANL (both Los Alamos National Security, the for-profit consortium that manages the Lab, and the Department of Energy), the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

A coalition of eight community organizations and two individuals announced the historic settlement resulting from a Clean Water Act (CWA) citizen enforcement action filed in March 2008 against LANL. The coalition was represented in this action by the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) in Taos, New Mexico. The settlement supplements a previous agreement, negotiated by many of the same groups involved in the CWA enforcement action, on a new individual stormwater discharge permit for LANL that was issued by EPA on November 1, 2010. 

The new permit is one of the most stringent in the United States. It requires LANL to install pollution control measures, increase monitoring and clean up numerous hazardous waste dump sites scattered throughout LANL’s property. Items not specifically dealt with by the new stormwater permit were addressed in the settlement agreement reached today.

“This historic victory and the recent stormwater permit will give the public strong tools for participating in the cleanup process at LANL,” said Joni Arends, Executive Director of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS), which has been monitoring LANL for over 20 years. “We’re looking forward to ensuring that the Lab and the regulatory agencies implement the permit so that the Río Grande and downstream communities will be protected from contamination running downhill from LANL”.

The settlement and stormwater permit together require that LANL capture and eliminate runoff from over 400 waste dump sites that have historically discharged pollutants to the Río Grande, a source of drinking water for Santa Fe.

In accordance with the new stormwater permit, LANL must install control measures at all sites by May 1, 2011 and eliminate toxic discharges from 63 “high priority sites” within three years –- by November 2013. These 63 sites are the proverbial bad actors that require immediate attention. Stormwater discharges from the remaining sites must be captured or eliminated by November, 2015.

Under the terms of the negotiated settlement, the community groups and their experts and technical advisors will have access to the waste dump sites, have technical meetings with LANL and have the opportunity to carefully review and comment on all decisions being made under the new permit. The agreement provides funding for the community groups to hire experts and obtain technical support to help facilitate their participation in the permitting process.

“This is a huge victory for clean water and the protection of people’s health,” said Brian Shields, Executive Director of Amigos Bravos, one of the community organizations that filed the citizen complaint against LANL. “The settlement agreement is an example of what can be achieved through perseverance, independent analysis, and tremendous support from the community.”

The new stormwater permit and negotiated settlement are designed to eliminate contaminated stormwater discharges from the Lab that could carry pollutants to the Río Grande. Stormwater is rainwater or snow melt that does not soak into the ground and becomes surface runoff that flows into rivers and streams. Stormwater running across contaminated soils, such as the dump sites at LANL, can pick up toxic materials and carry them into rivers and streams.

“It’s a new day,” said Matthew Bishop, the WELC attorney who represented the community groups and individuals. “When we first looked at the dump sites and stormwater issues at the Lab back in 2003, there was no site-specific monitoring, very few pollution control measures in place, and no meaningful corrective action occurring,” added Bishop. “With the new individual stormwater permit and negotiated settlement, we should see significant improvements to water quality in the Rio Grande.”

Some of the community groups have been studying LANL’s toxic legacy for many years, but the Cerro Grande fire in May 2000 compelled CCNS and Amigos Bravos to conduct a two-year study of LANL’s historic discharges. The two groups joined with community organizations in Santa Clara Pueblo and the Embudo Valley, along with New Mexico’s acequias to form Communities for Clean Water, whose mission is to protect the region’s waters for drinking, recreation, cultural practices, wildlife, and production of healthy food.

The Clean Water Act citizen complaint was filed in March, 2008 to address LANL’s lack of adequate monitoring and reporting and the Lab’s failure to ensure adequate pollution control measures were in place at all discharge sites.

“It was just inexcusable that LANL had failed for so long to clean up their toxic mess, which affects nearby Pueblo Nations and small towns and cities along the Río Grande,” said Kathy Sanchez, Director of Tewa Women United. “All of us are connected by water.”

Together, the new stormwater permit and today’s historic settlement will help community organizations and citizens keep an eye on pollution control measures at LANL.

Organizations and individuals that filed the citizen complaint are Amigos Bravos, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, Embudo Valley Environmental Monitoring Group, New Mexico Acequia Association, Don Gabino Andrade Community Acequia Association, Partnership for Earth Spirituality, Río Grande Restoration, SouthWest Organizing Project, Tewa Women United, and Gilbert and Kathy Sanchez. The first four groups and Honor Our Pueblo Existence comprise Communities for Clean Water.

A full copy of the complaint, settlement agreement, and new stormwater permit can be found at: www.amigosbravos.org/lanl.php.

April 29, 2011 at 03:43 PM in Environment, Legal Issues, Nuclear Arms, Power | Permalink

Comments

Thanks for this report!

Posted by: suz | Apr 29, 2011 8:13:22 PM