County Manager Harry Burgess
County officials have announced their intent to challenge a recent ruling from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requiring Los Alamos County to obtain and comply with a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) MS-4 permit.
In addressing the need for this challenge, County Manager Harry Burgess cited significant legal concerns about how the EPA’s decision was reached. Burgess also expressed serious concerns about the fairness of the EPA ruling which would unfairly place the costs of cleanup and monitoring upon the citizens of the County.
Many of the identified pollutants were discharged prior to the existence of the County during the time of the Manhattan Project, the top-secret mission in WWII that resulted in the creation of Los Alamos National Laboratory.
“To be clear, Los Alamos County fully supports environmental clean-up and has voiced such support for full funding, identified timelines and requested prompt corrective action for these types of activities,” Burgess said. “Over the last several years, with the help of our elected officials in Washington, the laboratory environmental cleanup budgets have increased by $25 million dollars annually. At the same time, we have been very clear with EPA about the need for firm boundaries and limitations regarding the extent of our citizens’ responsibility regarding these legacy wastes.”
“In this challenge, our stance remains the same as it was over five years ago when this issue first arose—placing this responsibility and related financial burden upon the citizens of Los Alamos is unfair, given that a mere 14% of the land in Los Alamos County is under the effective control of the County, with the vast majority of the remaining 86% of the land under the effective control of Los Alamos National Laboratory and other federal agencies,” he said.
Burgess said that the County will be challenging the EPA’s ruling by filing an appeal with the Environmental Appeals Board in Washington D.C. this week and may pursue other avenues available for relief in the U.S. District Court, District of New Mexico.
“We are taking the necessary steps to preserve and defend our legal position. At the same time, we also invite representatives from all sides to the table to discuss the complexity and inadequacy of this EPA ruling,” he said, adding, “This is not a ruling to be taken lightly; in order to comply with such a broad and unending regulatory burden, we will need to pull funds from other road construction projects outlined in the County’s budget to hire additional staff, including a full-time engineer to create and implement a stormwater master plan. Other projects for road maintenance and sidewalk improvements will have to be scaled back or canceled, yet these stormwater controls will not be effective in limiting the mobilization of the pollutants, given that the majority of any runoff will continue to emanate from federal lands that would not be regulated by the proposed permit.”
“Our interest in challenging EPA’s decision is to make sure that any decision that impacts the citizens of this County is lawful as well as fair,” Burgess said. “The County seeks solutions that address and resolve actual problems in an effective manner. We believe this current broad-sweeping approach taken by EPA lacks a rational relationship to the problem it purports to address, and further believe this decision was reached in a manner contrary to law. It would be an act of fiscal irresponsibility to simply comply with this regulatory mandate without further consideration, discussion and resolution of the legal issues involved.”