Guest Editorial by MARILYN GAYLE HOFF
[Editor’s Note: This editorial was published in the May 10 Taos News “My Turn” column.]
The Town of Taos recently joined the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities, portrayed as a benign organization offering neighboring towns and counties input into Los Alamos National Laboratory policies. In truth, the coalition was formed to employ a lobbying firm, paid for by coalition members, to milk the federal government for funding for LANL. Coalition members, the governing bodies of cities, towns, and counties downstream and downwind of LANL, are bilked for annual payments proportionate to how many Lab employees live within their jurisdictions.
Los Alamos County, the coalition’s instigator, boasts second highest Median Household Income ($105,987) in the U.S. The local governments asked to pony up for this confidence game preside over rampant poverty. Can’t Los Alamos afford to pay its own lobbyists?
The coalition claims to promote lab clean-up and green opportunities. But any appropriations won by its lobbyists go to LANL, which touts clean-up and diversification to get more money while it spends 60 percent of its annual budget of $2.2 billion on nuclear weapons activities. LANL has cleaned up very little of its radioactive mess, despite agreeing to a legal Consent Order in 2005 to do so. It plans to devote 0.09 percent of its 2013 budget to green energy development and 10.6 percent to clean-up. LANL’s current lobbying push in Congress includes reinstating funding for the $6 billion CMMR-NF plutonium processing facility (for making nuclear weapons). CMRR-NF was recently postponed five years due to budget constraints and lack of need for more and more nuclear weapons that must never be used.
Despite its touted PR largesse, LANL’s presence in our region is not benign. It is a dangerous, highly polluting, irresponsible, for-profit, scofflaw institution that undermines the health of everyone living downwind and downstream. It perches beside the Rio Grande rift, among earthquake faults, on the unstable slopes of the Jemez Mountains, the remnants of a huge dormant volcano under which hot magma still lurks. Earthquakes have recently shaken that region. Last summer the enormous Las Conchas fire roared right up to the lab boundaries. The several metric tons of flammable plutonium housed at LANL, if scattered by fire to the winds, could render northern New Mexico uninhabitable for untold millenia.
Our tax dollars now promote this organization, thanks to our elected representatives whose contribution portrays Taos as supportive of LANL’s reckless activities. Town of Taos’s yearly membership fee may be based on the 153 LANL employees residing in Taos County, among them the son of County Commissioner Andrew Chavez. In 2010 Commissioner Chavez failed to recuse himself due to his familial vested interest, but instead avidly promoted and voted for the County to pony up for the LANL lobbyists. (He is up for re-election.) Taos County pays $3,750 annually to the coalition. What will the Town of Taos pay? Our resident Lab employees, with wages averaging nearly $90,000/year, constitute 0.5 percent of the County population.
Reversing a previous unanimous Town decision to resist this extortion, our new Town Council caved like the County. Contrast their obeisance to our local 0.5 percent with their unanimous vote to terminate the Community Free Box that benefitted thousands of much needier locals. Two thousand signatories begged the Council to preserve the Free Box, more than voted in the last pathetic Town election. While many Taoseños struggle to feed and clothe their children, some of our local taxes now subsidize the mega-rich purveyors of profitable death and destruction.
Two hundred thousand dollars have been so far wrested from New Mexico towns and counties to lobby for LANL. These compliant pay-offs lend legitimacy to an organization whose mission—creating the means to destroy life on earth—is simply evil. Contributing to this lobbying scam influences LANL policy only by rubber-stamping it.
In the Joint Powers Agreement signed by coalition dupes, amendment 10C allows individual members to withdraw from the coalition, although the coalition gets to continue using the withdrawing party’s legitimizing name. Ask your county commissioners, town councilors, and mayors to withdraw from this Joint Powers Agreement, joined without consulting the public. Remind them their most pressing public consultation will be their next elections.