Congressman Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico's Third District and a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee questioned officials from the Department of Energy yesterday on their plans to move millions of gallons of highly radioactive waste from the Hanford site in Washington state to New Mexico for storage at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plan (WIPP). While the leaks at Hanford are an environmental disaster, moving this waste to New Mexico has been controversial in the past. The Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing, which focused on the recent security breakdown at the Y-12 National Security Complex, provided Luján with an opportunity to question high-ranking DOE officials on their plans to transport and store this waste in New Mexico.
During Luján's questioning it was revealed that federal officials have been in dialogue with representatives from the State. Luján sought a commitment from the agency to work closely with local officials and concerned citizens, in addition to State officials and the New Mexico federal delegation, as it explores whether such a transfer will take place and under what conditions.
"While DOE has said it is interested in working with the committee and members of Congress, it is vital that the people of New Mexico also have an opportunity to express their views and make their voices heard," Luján said. "I will continue to encourage DOE to work not only with the federal and state government, but also to engage directly with the people of New Mexico to hear their concerns."
Luján also expressed concerns that cleanup at Hanford will impact efforts to address waste already in New Mexico.
"I hope that this will not happen at the expense of cleaning up existing sites in New Mexico," Luján said during the hearing. "I don't want to see a slowing down or decrease in environmental management funding. If anything, it should be increased to allow more rapid cleanup, especially in Los Alamos. With the TRU waste issue in New Mexico, it is ready to be picked up and ready to go."
Luján has long advocated for increased funding to address waste cleanup at the national labs, especially Los Alamos. Last year, he introduced an amendment to increase funding for Defense Environmental Cleanup at NNSA labs.