Conejos County Clean Water, Inc., a citizens’ group based in Antonito, Colorado, San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, a group based in Alamosa, Colorado, and Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, a non-governmental organization based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, announced today that they have filed suit in federal court to compel the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to conduct a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process that analyzes the impacts of transporting radioactive, hazardous and toxic waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) through the state of Colorado via a storage and truck-to-rail transfer site in Conejos County.
In November 2009, Conejos County officials and citizens of Antonito discovered the active transfer of LANL wastes by crane from flat-bed trucks to rail gondolas less than a quarter mile from the town and within 100 yards of a headwaters tributary to the Rio Grande. The waste was contained in soft sacks, which can hold 24,000 pounds of waste. Neither the local governments nor residents were notified of any plans of the DOE, LANL, San Luis and Rio Grande Railroad, and EnergySolutions (a private Utah-based corporation which operates a radioactive and hazardous waste dump 75 miles west of Salt Lake City) to transport and transfer radioactive, hazardous and toxic waste in Conejos County. The County halted the activities pending compliance with local land use laws.
This is a case of the DOE and their contractors trying to impose their will on local communities without providing notice and without any opportunity for a fair impact review, said Andrea Guajardo, member of the Board of Directors of Conejos County Clean Water, Inc. That DOE would attempt to force these impacts on Conejos County, the poorest county in Colorado, without engaging the public in a meaningful way is inexcusable and illegal, Ms. Guajardo added.
In 2005, LANL and DOE signed a consent decree with the New Mexico Environment Department agreeing to clean up certain waste dumps at the LANL facility by 2015. The waste that was shipped is part of a cleanup campaign funded by stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
“We have a moral obligation to protect the headwaters of the Rio Grande,” San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council director Christine Canaly said. “It’s imperative the public be engaged in this process.”
DOE officials recently stated that waste from other DOE sites, including Sandia National Laboratory, located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the Pantex Site, located north of Amarillo, Texas, could also be transferred at the Antonito location, once it is established as a transfer site for toxic, hazardous, and radioactive wastes.
“DOE will continue to generate radioactive, toxic, and hazardous wastes and EnergySolutions is looking for ways to take a larger cut of the DOE waste for its dump,” stated Joni Arends, director of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety. “The community efforts to protect the San Luis Valley and the headwaters of the Rio Grande are absolutely necessary for now and in the future. If the transfer site in Antonito is opened, DOE will utilize it to the fullest extent and the people of the Valley could expect more and more shipments from other DOE sites.”
Colorado-based attorney Jeff Parsons and the non-profit law firm Energy Minerals Law Center, through attorney Travis Stills, represent the groups.