A dispute between New Mexico and federal officials regarding authority over a nuclear waste storage site could force the state to cancel or delay $200 million in highway construction.
Planned improvements to U.S. 70 near Las Cruces and U.S. 285-84 north of Santa Fe are among the projects that could be in jeopardy.
The U.S. Department of Energy has sued New Mexico over regulations it has imposed on the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, including a requirement for the WIPP contractor to post a $110 million financial assurance to cover eventual costs of closing the nuclear waste storage site.
Because Congress empowered the DOE to use New Mexico's share of federal road funding to cover any bonding requirements the state imposed on WIPP, the agency is now saying it will withhold $20 million a year in federal road money to cover the financial assurance if the state doesn't drop the requirement.
New Mexico was promised $300 million in federal money -- $20 million a year for 15 years -- for road improvements to help cover the costs of accommodating WIPP.
U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-NM, said Friday he would ask Congress to block the state from imposing the bond, thus eliminating any reason for the DOE to withhold highway money. The senator said he would try to attach a provision to a congressional spending bill before Congress heads home for the holidays.