Editor’s Note: In the April 15 issue of La Jicarita we published an open letter and survey devised by Taoseños For Peaceful and Sustainable Futures for the Democratic U.S. Senate and Congressional candidates on their positions regarding nuclear weapons development, particularly concerning Los Alamos National Laboratory. The survey was emailed to the candidates April 13 with a reminder on April 27. The candidates who responded were: Laura Montoya, Valerie Plame, Joseph Sanchez, and Kyle Tisdel.
Candidates who did not respond were: Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, John Blair, Marco Serna, and Teresa Leger Fernandez.
The background to the survey is as follows:
“We are at a critical juncture in human history, where our world is now facing not two, but three existential threats: the climate crisis, nuclear war, and now the COVID-19 global pandemic. It is the responsibility of all our Northern New Mexico elected representatives to have a thorough understanding of and be able to speak about issues regarding national security, and especially to understand how nuclear weapons activities at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) affect all of the peoples, cultures,
health, safety, water, and environment of the communities surrounding the lab.
“The $738 billion FY 2020 military spending bill includes a nuclear weapons budget that calls for an expansion of nuclear warhead core (plutonium “pit”) production at LANL and associated infrastructure with an estimated cost of over $13 billion of taxpayer money over the next 10 years, DOE /NNSA has determined that it is unnecessary to conduct environmental impact studies required by NEPA regulations before oommencing with its plans, with which our New Mexico congressional delegation agrees.
“At the same time, DOE/NNSA wants to cut LANL’s 2020 cleanup budget by $100 million, almost in half, with our congressional delegation disagrees. Many citizens from all over the regional communities surrounding LANL have signed a petition requesting that our federal congressional delegation to demand that NNSA conduct both a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) and a Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement (SWEIS) for LANL before any plutonium pit expansion operations for a nuclear weapons modernization program move forward.”
Questions and responses to the survey are listed below.
1. What is your position on US military spending and the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act?
Laura Montoya: My position is that they get too much money and it would be better utilized in other projects. I also find it disturbing that Trump has kept “acting Secretary” positions his entire term in order to transfer funds from important projects in New Mexico and put it towards “border security” which has wasted taxpayer dollars and made other programs become volatile.
Valerie Plame: With economic disparity continuing to grow and prescription drug and healthcare prices driving people to bankruptcy, now is not the time for Congress to be increasing funds for the Pentagon and the military industrial complex.
Joseph Sanchez: I was glad to see the budget increases to LANL, but we must also ensure that taxpayer money is spent more efficiently. We could potentially be using funds within the act itself to pay for other needed services.
Kyle Tisdel: The U.S. spends vastly more on military and defense than any other nation on earth, now more than $730 billion per year. We can both honor our commitments to our military personnel and veterans while also addressing the critical need to reign in the military industrial complex. The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act exacerbates a history of over-expenditures and wasteful spending, including vast sums on the new Space Force, but also for private military contractors and corporations who are growing ever wealthier on taxpayer dollars.
2 Do you see the connection between the US war economy and climate change?
Laura Montoya: Yes
Valerie Plame: The US military has been one of the world’s worst perpetrators of harmful pollutants and they must be more responsible and accountable for its high level of carbon and hazardous materials pollution around the world. This includes the groundwater poisoning caused by cancer causing firefighting foam used at Holloman Air Force in Eastern New Mexico.
Joseph Sanchez: I don’t see a direct connection between funds spent on our national laboratories, though I do see climate change as a major concern. I know for a fact that LANL is looking at this issue and developing renewable technologies.
Kyle Tisdel: The U.S. military has a bigger carbon footprint than 140 nations, combined, spending nearly $8 billion per year on fuel alone. Any meaningful action to align with scientifically prescribed warming thresholds will not only require the managed decarbonization of our military, but also a fundamental change in mission and approach to foreign policy—whereby we withdraw from foreign interventions and, instead, work to strengthen our alliances and humanitarian engagement.
3. What is your position on “modernization” of the United State nuclear weapons arsenal and industrial scale Rocky Flats-style plutonium pit production at LANL?
Laura Montoya: There are only two candidates in this race who have directly stated their concerns publicly regarding PIT production and the fact that $13 plus billion dollars is coming in to New Mexico without bringing in the same amount of money for environmental standards requirements or protection of our water, land and air. I find the entire situation concerning because there is no accountability or transparency. There needs to be independent studies done at all times on items that are being worked on at the labs that have any possible type of impact on our climate, land, air, and water and if you can place money towards this project, then you damn well better place money toward the safety of what it contains, etc.
Valerie Plame: I am opposed to increasing the United States’ nuclear weapons arsenal and opposed to increasing plutonium pit production. I do not see this as essential to our national security or the economic contributions the Los Alamos National Lab brings to our regional economy.
Joseph Sanchez: I fully support LANL. They employ over 12,000 people from northern New Mexico, and thousands more indirectly. They contribute billions of dollars to New Mexico’s economy, and millions of dollars in tax monies to Los Alamos County and the state of New Mexico.
Kyle Tisdel: I am firmly opposed to expanded plutonium pit production and the further proliferation of the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal. These new “modern” pits will potentially require additional testing, threatening to violate the international test ban treaty and inflame global hostilities. If Rocky Flats is any lesson—with its tragic legacy of toxic pollution and environmental degradation—expanded pit production at LANL threatens multi-generational harms.
4. As a member of Congress, would you lead your colleagues by demanding a Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement for the LANL plutonium pit expansion, even if it means standing up to our two powerful Senators, Congressman Lujan, and our other two congressional members?
Laura Montoya: Yes. I have never had a problem standing up for what I believe is the right thing to do. You can look at my track record for the past 20 years working for US Sen. Jeff Bingaman, the state Treasurer’s Office, legislators in both the House of Representatives and the Senate or as a current elected County Treasurer. I have respectfully always stated my opinion with facts, research and statistics. I have publicly fought against many different issues even when it wasn’t popular or favorable all the way from right-to-work for less and oil-n-gas ordinances to fair wages for the county employees to removing tax loopholes and helping our seniors, disabled and Veterans with better tax policy. My journey led me to work for people through service and as your Congresswoman, I will do my best to take care of New Mexico and our people. Also, follow the money. My campaign has never been about money which is why I committed early on to not take money from pay day lenders, corporate oil and gas, the tobacco
industry or pharmaceuticals because their values do not align with my values. In addition to that, look at the campaign finance reports. I am proud to say that we have been a top contender in this race fighting over against over $4 million dollars with only $30,000. That shows you my commitment to not be sold out to special interests and it shows you I can manage money efficiently and effectively.
Valerie Plame: The mission of Los Alamos National Lab should not be at odds with environmental justice and has no reason to be. I will fiercely support a full site-wide environmental impact study on any pit expansion projects. The current supplement analysis does not go far enough to ensure the safety of our community and environment.
Joseph Sanchez: No.
Kyle Tisdel: Yes. This is fundamentally about the transparency of government action. The essential function of NEPA is to both inform the public and aid decision makers in considering the impacts of federal actions on people and the environment. Here, not only is the last site-wide analysis at LANL stale and outdated, but the prospect of expanded plutonium pit production represents new, and previously unanalyzed risks. Without a site-wide EIS, it is impossible for the Department of Energy to make an informed decision to approve or deny such action, or to consider a range of alternatives that may reduce or mitigate impacts to people, the surrounding communities, and the environment.
5. If you were in office now, would you pressure DOE/NNSA to halt nuclear weapons production and tritium activities at our National Labs, in other words, shift to “minimum safe and secure operations” during the pandemic? Our powerful New Mexico congressional delegation and our governor claim that New Mexico’s two nuclear weapons labs, which lead the world in spending for weapons of mass destruction, are a vital economic engine driving the state’s economy. But as the labs have grown, New Mexico’s relative economic standing has declined and now trails almost all other states. We are currently ranked the worst state in the U.S. in which to raise a child.
Laura Montoya: I am still waiting to hear from the labs and would like to hear what DOE/NNSA have to say before making a solid decision but based on what I know at this point, I believe that there is a lot of opportunity to utilize the expertise of the labs in a positive way for our community, our environment and our nation. I would like to talk to them about shifting gears to help with COVID by making the needed materials to protect us and find a vaccine, prepare for the next pandemic and work on technology that can help us be innovative in how we can decrease water usage, improve the climate crisis and help increase economic development in our state. I have a big problem with the thought that they are trying to use New Mexico as a dumping site for nuclear crap because we are predominately brown and poor the same way that fracking has been pushed on tribal land. I am giving them the benefit of the doubt until they speak with me and give me their perspective but that better not be the case.
Valerie Plame: Yes.
Joseph Sanchez: The laboratory has a majority of the workforce working from home right now and is doing what is necessary to protect its workers and national security and I fully support the way that are handling operations during this pandemic.
Kyle Tisdel: Yes. While agencies within the executive branch operate with a fair amount of discretion, our Congressional and community leaders can play a critical role in influencing agency decisions. During this current health crisis, where our scientists and epidemiologists are still gathering data and information to better understand the novel coronavirus, it becomes even more important to take a precautionary approach with operations at our National Labs—in particular with the release and venting of toxic air pollutants that may contribute or exacerbate respiratory issues for those inflicted with the disease.
6. Do you believe New Mexico’s social and economic success depends on these massive increases in nuclear weapons spending?
Laura Montoya: No but I believe our safety and the safety of our land, people, water and air are dependent upon what they are doing and the accountability we hold them to.
Valerie Plame: No, I believe our National Labs have much more to offer our economy than just nuclear weapons spending.
Joseph Sanchez: I believe that our laboratories are extremely important to New Mexico’s economy. See my answer above.
Kyle Tisdel: No. New Mexico has operated as an energy and weapons colony for generations. And, as with any colonized area, the benefits are experienced by few while the burdens largely fall on everyone else. It is my belief that this relationship has prevented the growth, prosperity, and diversification of our economy.
7. Yes or no. Do you support industrial-scale nuclear warhead core (plutonium “pit”) production at LANL?
Laura Montoya: I do not support it as currently presented to me with the lack of environmental standards and protection for our land and people.
Valerie Plame: No.
Joseph Sanchez: Yes
Kyle Tisdel: No.
For more information you can contact SUZIE SCHWARTZ of
Taoseños For Peaceful And Sustainable Futures: email@example.com