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Saturday August 17th 2019

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The Department of Energy’s Environmental Racism in Colorado


photo courtesy Lars Leber,

Conejos County Clean Water, Inc. (CCCW), San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, and Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety have filed in the federal court in Denver a complaint and petition alleging that the Department of Energy (DOE) is negligent for approving and funding the transportation, transfer, and storage of toxic, hazardous and radioactive waste materials at a site adjacent to the town of Antonito, Colorado. The county seat of Conejos County, Antonito is a small town located near the New Mexico state line on the southern edge of the vast high-elevation San Luis Valley.

The waste in question is destined over a period of at least ten years to be moved from the DOE’s Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico to an Energy Solutions waste disposal facility at Clive, Utah, with a truck-to-train transfer point on the southern outskirts of Antonito. Without even notifying the people of Antonito or their local government officials in Antonito or Conejos County, in November 2009 the DOE shipped some of this waste by truck from Los Alamos to the Antonito transfer point. Residents of Antonito, Conejos County and the San Luis Valley were alarmed when they learned that toxic waste was being transferred from a truck to rail cars on a siding near Antonito adjacent to the San Antonio River, a tributary of the Rio Grande. An accident with the waste could pollute not only their scenic river but also the Rio Grande, the headwaters of which are in the mountains on the western side of the San Luis Valley.

CCCW and the other plaintiffs provide in their legal complaint a detailed account of what they have learned and what has transpired regarding this situation They point to the obvious fact that the DOE’s action violates the National Environmental Policy Act requirement of an analysis of environmental impacts, including involving the affected population in determination of the scope of the analysis. Though the plan for the waste transfer in Antonito was included in an October 2009 internal DOE document, this document was never made public.

Neither residents of Antonito and Conejos County nor their government officials were informed of what was being planned for the environment in which they live, much less were they given their legal right to comment on action that would affect them for a decade or more. DOE’s behavior looks like an egregious example of environmental racism to an economically disadvantaged minority population. The population of Conejos County is about 60% Hispanic, and the county ranks as one of the poorest in the U.S., with median household income less than half the national average and 38% of its children living in poverty.

This situation could be quickly remedied if the DOE would simply do now what it should have done earlier, namely, abide by the law and conduct an Environmental Impact Statement for its planned transport, transfer, and storage of LANL waste at the transfer point near Antonito. Such an EIS would detail potential dangers associated with the proposed plan as well as explore alternatives to this plan.

The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center stands strongly behind CCCW and their colleagues in taking their complaint to federal court. But we also believe that they should not have to go to court to get a federal agency to do the right thing. Accordingly, we and other Colorado organizations just sent a letter to members of the Colorado Congressional delegation urging them to insist that DOE immediately announce its intention to conduct an EIS for this proposed activity.

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