By KAY MATTHEWS
The morning before I went to the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities (RCLC) meeting in Española (Friday, April 27) I listened to Cultural Energy’s (KCEI 90.1 FM) broadcast of Chris Hedges’ talk in Albuquerque last weekend. He spoke about war and poverty and racism and the movement towards fascism all over the world but he also spoke about resistance and those all over the world who resist, against enormous odds and the existential threat of unchecked power.
In Española there was also resistance, this time against Los Alamos National Laboratory’s nuclear weapons mission, by the resisters who always show up, against enormous odds and the existential threat of nuclear annihilation: Joni Arends of Concerned Citizens of Nuclear Safety; Scott Kovac of Nuclear Watch New Mexico; Marian Naranjo of HOPE; Robin Collier of Cultural Energy; Devin Bent, Erich Kuerschner, David Bacon, Suzie Schwartz, Deborah Begal, Marilyn Hoff, Jeanne Green, Margarita Denevan and many others.
Was it another exercise in beating heads against the wall? The RCLC meeting, which had been rescheduled when it failed to have a quorum in Taos three weeks earlier, may not have had a legal quorum in Española, either: there were four board members physically present in the room, representing the counties of Santa Fe, Taos, and Los Alalmos—and someone sitting in for the Española mayor—with the fifth member, the representative from the Town of Taos, on the phone, who was and wasn’t there (he had to be re-called three times to make sure he was actually participating). The membership of the RCLC includes representatives from the pueblos of Jemez and Ohkay Owingeh, but their participation is intermittent. The board had been given a letter of demands (listed later in the article) and knew the room was full of people who wanted to be heard: they agreed to move public comment to the beginning of the agenda.
Why is there a Coalition in the first place? The mission statement says, “The Regional Coalition is a conduit for Northern New Mexico communities to make a direct impact on local, state and federal government decision-making in regional economic development and nuclear cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratories (LANL) [emphasis added]. The Regional Coalition is comprised of elected and tribal officials representing their local communities to ensure national decisions incorporate local needs and interests.” But the Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) for the Coalition states that the mission of the RCLC is “advocacy of long-term stable funding for LANL missions.” Long-term stable funding for what? The current LANL budget calls for 1.7 billion dollars or 69.8% of funding for nuclear weapons activities, while only 188 million dollars or 7.6% are allocated for environmental cleanup. Why in the world do we need another lobbyist for unspecified “long-term stable funding” when the Lab has long been a cash cow for nuclear weapons development instead of environmental cleanup? The resisters at the meeting said very clearly, we are the communities you supposedly represent and we don’t want any more money allocated for nuclear development.
The folks from Taos presented a list of their demands to the board, which the Town of Taos representative had agreed to read aloud at the meeting but didn’t:
1) Removal of the phrase in the JPA: “2.A (ii) advocacy of long-term stable funding for LANL missions” (i.e. lobbying for $ for nuclear bomb production at LANL).
2) Conflict of Interest: The RCLC Board must deal with conflict of interest. In addition to the new rules for the executive directorship, current or former employees of LANL or Sandia Labs being considered for board positions should undergo a stringent vetting process with public review in order to determine whether there is a conflict of interest. Or in the alternative, no elected official who is also an employee of LANL should be allowed to participate as a board member.
3) Public Participation: The RCLC board must expand opportunities for public participation: move the public comment period to the beginning of the meeting, and allow for public discussion during the meeting and before decisions are made. The current 15 minute public comment period at the end of each meeting with no interaction between public and board cheats the democratic process.
The resisters had to raise these issues, and more, in their public comments:
• This meeting should have been rescheduled for Taos, where constituents were prepared to present their demands to the board. This creates the impression the board is not willing to hear its constituents’ concerns. (Margarita Denevan)
• There is no documentation to support the rationale that LANL is the “economic engine” of northern New Mexico that is trotted out by our congressional representatives, our legislators, our state and county officials, ad nauseum. New Mexico sits at the 46-48th position of the 50 states in median income. (Erich Kuerschner)
- Resistors asked the board seven years ago to remove the “long-term stable funding” language in the JPA and were told it couldn’t do it. LANL appears to be on the same cleanup funding path that left Rocky Flats, the plutonium pit production plant in Colorado, so contaminated that it can’t be used as anything other than a wildlife preserve. The 2016 Revised Consent Order for cleanup signed between the Lab and the New Mexico Environment Department needs to be rescinded and replaced with the more stringent original CO signed in 2005. (Jeanne Green)
• The recent revelations about the RCLC’s spending and reimbursement processes that resulted in the termination of Executive Director Andrea Romero’s contract are indicative of ethical and proprietary issues that are not being addressed. While a state audit is forthcoming, the RCLC must provide a list of all attendees (including Department of Energy personnel, consultants, private organizations, etc.) and spending at lobbying events so their constituents know what is being discussed and with whom. (Devin Bent)
• The RCLC bylaws state the mission of the coalition is to support the mission of the Lab, which now includes a proposed 10-fold increase in plutonium production from 38.6 grams of plutonium-239 equivalent to 400 grams. There are 15,000 plutonium pits in storage; we don’t need any more pits. (Marilyn Hoff) [LANL is still in competition with the Savannah River site over this pit production.]
• LANL is an occupier and needs to be a neighbor. We need to change the name of the RCLC to the Regional Coalition for Transition to Non-Nuclear work. (Joni Arends)
The only one of the demands that was addressed at the meeting was a motion to change the wording in the JPA 2.A (ii) to read: “advocacy of funding of LANL missions that citizens of the Coalition members support.” The conflict of interest issue wasn’t discussed at all, and while the board allowed public comment at the beginning of the meeting, no action was taken to incorporate this change into the JPA. And as Margarita Denevan said at the end of the meeting, while everyone appreciated the opportunity for “public comment,” what they really want is public “discussion” with the board members about what they do, why they’re doing it, and if they should be doing it at all.