By Katherine Shera
Editor’s Note: This letter to the editor of Los Alamos Reporter is reprinted with permission by Maire O’Neill.
I write this letter noting the Jan. 22, 2021 meeting of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities (RCLC) has been canceled due to lack of quorum, as reported in the Los Alamos Reporter(1). As members of the Board are aware, the RCLC’s search for a new executive director has not been answered, and DOE funding to support the coalition’s further operation has not been secured. As a resident of Santa Fe, I would like to register the following concerns regarding the RCLC’s mission, structure, and effectiveness.
RCLC Chair Henry Roybal, in a letter to LANL Director Thomas Mason last August, noted that the regional coalition “is made up of elected leadership from nine area northern New Mexico communities directly impacted by Los Alamos National Laboratory including three municipalities, four counties, and two tribes.” The coalition’s mission, Mr. Roybal continued, “…is to speak with one voice to ensure national and state decisions incorporate local needs and concerns…” (2)
(a) Regarding the coalition’s mission as stated by Mr. Roybal, it seems evident that there exists no compelling reason—beyond the convenience of DOE and LANL leadership—for LANL-impacted municipalities, counties, and tribes to “speak with one voice.” Indeed, given the diversity of the communities involved and their varied social, economic, and environmental concerns, the expectation of consensus among coalition members seems unjustified and undemocratic, even coercive.
(b) Because RCLC members are elected into their positions, the coalition’s framework is necessarily political. Such a politicized framework of community engagement—especially one that claims a unified voice—likely suppresses all but the dominant or most politically palatable views. To the extent that the RCLC is seen as fully representing the concerns of communities across Northern New Mexico, however, its very existence tends to reduce the availability of truly democratic means of interaction with LANL. The result is state and federal decision-making that is unresponsive, even injurious, to the real needs of local communities. Nevertheless, ill-founded frameworks for community engagement can be improved, as a local resident observed during a recent public meeting regarding LANL educational partnerships. Decisions are better, he noted, when they are made democratically and in full public view.
(c) Sadly, the RCLC’s record shows that it has often failed to ensure that the full spectrum of regional concerns is brought to bear on national and state decision-making. The communities of Taos County, Jemez Pueblo, and to a lesser extent, Ohkay Owingeh have become disengaged from RCLC deliberations, and rarely if ever attend scheduled meetings of the Board. And despite the RCLC’s purported focus on LANL environmental impacts on regional communities, the coalition failed to join or even discuss regional efforts to pressure DOE to conduct a Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement (SWEIS), which would evaluate potential impacts resulting from proposed LANL modernization plans. (3) Additional instances of the RCLC’s failure to engage with issues of concern to regional communities could readily be given. During the past year, for example, the Board did not take a position on the DP Road findings, or the planned tritium release at LANL.
Given its problematic and undemocratic structure, its current funding crisis, and most importantly, its ineffectiveness in responding to the full spectrum of community concerns, the time has come for dissolution of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities. The coalition’s unrepresentative and unresponsive framework should instead be replaced with one of frequent, regular, and open community forums hosted by LANL, where individual citizens can speak freely and directly engage LANL leadership in dialogue. Regular community forums will better amplify community concerns, will cost regional communities nothing, and will be independent of DOE funding—and influence.
1. Los Alamos Reporter. “Friday’s RCLC Meeting Canceled Due to Lack of Quorum.” Los Alamos Reporter.21 January 2021.
2. Regional Coalition of LANL Communities. Final adopted letter to LANL regarding economic impact data. https://regionalcoalitionnm.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/FINAL-Letter-to-LANL-regarding-econ-study-data.pdf
3. Los Alamos Reporter. “Regional Coalition of LANL Communities to issue RFP for Executive Director Services, Group Calls for Dissolution. https://losalamosreporter.com/2020/10/31/regional-coalition-of-lanl-communities-to-issue-rfp-for-executive-director-services-group-calls-for-dissolution/