Opinion By KAY MATTHEWS
As the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities (RCLC) sinks day by day into a deeper financial morass it’s time to also take stock of its political and moral being and call for its demise.
The Santa Fe New Mexican has been doing a good job of reporting on the financial transgressions that have been revealed since Northern New Mexicans Protecting Land, Water and Rights (NNMProtects) first filed for documents via an “Inspection of Public Records Act” request in 2017. In a letter to the board members of the RCLC and to Los Alamos County, its fiscal agent, the officers of NNMP raised questions about expenditures and reimbursements made by RCLC members and executive director Andrea Romero on travel to Washington D.C. Specifically, the letter questioned expenditures on alcohol, baseball tickets, and a first-class airfare ticket. The letter also questioned contract payments made to Romero (she worked for RCLC under Andrea Romero Consulting) by Los Alamos County that seemed to indicate over payment.
Since that time, an audit by Los Alamos County found violations of travel policies and questionable mileage reports while a state audit found that the RCLC violated not only the coalition’s policies but also state law, to the tune of $51,000, from 2014 to 2018.
Then, in an independent investigation by Albuquerque Adams + Crow Law Firm, there was a possible attempt by Los Alamos County, the fiscal agent, to revise documents to conceal thousands of dollars of unlawful reimbursements of meals, liquor, and other spending.
Some folks are calling for Attorney General Hector Balderas to initiate an investigation to see if there has been criminal wrongdoing on the part of the RCLC. New Mexican opinion writer Milan Simonich has been questioning Romero’s qualifications regarding her upset victory as Democratic candidate for state representative in District 46 when three term candidate Carl Trujillo was accused of sexual harassment (he is fighting the charges, one of which, retaliation, has been dropped). Simonich’s latest column criticizes Democratic chairwoman Marg Elliston for dismissing the seriousness of Romero and the RCLC’s “lavish ways.” In a recent AP interview, House Speaker Brian Egolf also defends Romero.
Even before the state audit came out Simonich got at the heart of the issue by questioning the very existence of the RCLC: “U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-Santa Fe, a member of Congress for 19 years, has more insight and influence regarding lab projects than the coalition ever could. Udall and the rest of the congressional delegation also have staffs whose jobs depend on staying on top of the lab’s failings, hazards and economic opportunities.” This is exactly what I referenced Greg Mello saying in my La Jicarita article on the potential of pit production at LANL: there are enough high powered people lobbying for money for LANL that no one is bothering with RCLC town and county representatives.
Why are we wasting money—$200,000 a year, half from federal taxpayers and the rest from taxpayers in the region—on an ineffective lobbying group, and most egregiously, on a lobbying group from which there is no accountability? The mission statement of the RCLC states: “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].” There is absolutely no proof that the RCLC has ever made a “direct impact” on “nuclear cleanup” at LANL: 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.
Let’s forget about the RCLC and focus our attention on the looming threat of pit production at LANL. Let’s support the work of the our longtime anti-nuke groups the Los Alamos Study Group, Nuclear Watch New Mexico, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, Southwest Research and Information Center, and the Nuclear Issues Study Group. Let’s support the group of Taos citizens who have long been questioning the integrity of the RCLC and instead are working towards nuclear disarmament. They have petitioned the town of Taos to pass a resolution requesting the New Mexico Environment Department strengthen and enforce the revised 2016 Los Alamos National Laboratory Consent Order governing cleanup at the Lab and that the Department of Energy halt pit production and redirect funding to include comprehensive cleanup and expand nuclear non-proliferation activities, climate science, and other peaceful and sustainable technologies research and development.
Let’s support sanity.