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US Waste bill being decided

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(June 25, 1992) The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) land withdrawal legislation is before the US House of Representatives floor week. WIPP, located in southeastern New Mexico, is the proposed underground disposal facility for radioactive and hazardous waste.

(374/5.3671) WISE Amsterdam - On 18 June, the House of Representatives Rules Committee approved a compromise WIPP land withdrawal bill which will be voted on the week of June 22. The compromise reportedly generally follows the House Energy Committee's WIPP land withdrawal Bill with two important changes. First, the Bill would permanently turn the site over to the Department of Energy (DOE), subject only to the option for Congress to terminate the withdrawal within 180 days after the end of the 5-8 year test phase. Second, the Bill accelerates the earliest possible time for the test phase to begin by requiring the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to announce new disposal standards within six months. As soon as that happens EPA could approve DOE's test plan.

The House Energy Committee allowed only one amendment to be offered ? Rep. Bill Richardson's amendment to prevent any waste emplacement until DOE demonstrates compliance with EPA disposal standards and EPA certifies that compliance.

Last year, three House Committees had passed different bills, but failed to agree on a compromise to present on the House floor for a vote. This week's compromise keeps the Armed Services Committee's provision to permanently turn over the site to DOE. In addition, the compromise strengthens language from the House Energy and Commerce bill.

The compromise bill requires EPA to issue new disposal standards within six months so that DOE's proposed test phase can be certified as necessary to proving whether or not WIPP can meet EPA disposal standards.

The House Rules committee will allow New Mexico Representative Bill Richardson to introduce his amendment requiring WIPP to demonstrate compliance with EPA disposal standards before any waste is shipped to the facility. If the House compromise is passed, differences between the House bill and a less restrictive Senate bill, passed last November, must be worked out in conference before President Bush is asked to sign the land transfer into law.

Governor Bruce King has denied that he has the authority to bypass state permits for WIPP in order to help DOE open the facility for a test phase. Secretary of Energy Watkins had publicly asked the Governor to intercede with the New Mexico Environment Department so that a test phase could soon begin at WIPP. King reminded Watkins that a federal district court ruling in Washington, D.C., has supported NMED's preliminary ruling that WIPP does not have interim status and therefore must go through the two-year permit process before any waste can come to the facility. Unless the court ruling is reversed on appeal, King says he is powerless to grant the interim status exception.

The National Academy of Sciences Refuses to Endorse DOE's Proposed Test Phase at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. A report released 18 June 1992 from the Academy's panel on WIPP says that DOE's proposed test phase at WIPP is faulty and unlikely to con-tribute to an evaluation of the long-term performance of the repository.

The report states: "DOE needs to articulate a convincing scientific rational for the proposed test program in terms of the performance of WIPP as a TRU repository" [for transuranic wastes]. However, the panel has reservations about the need for all of the proposed tests."

Margret Carde of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, a Santa Fe-based citizen group, commenting on the report said: "This report concludes that DOE's proposed WIPP test phase will not contribute to understanding whether or not WIPP can, indeed, meet EPA disposal standards. Senator Domenici, Senator Bingaman, the entire New Mexico congressional delegation and Governor Bruce King must now realize that DOE's wish to bring waste to WIPP for a test phase was based on political rather than scientific urgency. Our leaders must relinquish their support for this test phase and publically support Representative Bill Richardson's amendment to insist that WIPP meet EPA standards before any waste can come to New Mexico."

Source: GreenNet, gn:nuc.facilities, 20 June 1992
Contact: Don Hancock, Southwest Research and Information Center, P.O. Box 4524, Albuquerque New Mexico 87106, USA; Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS), 412 West San Francisco St., Santa Fe NM 87501; Tel: +1-505 986 1973.