At a very anti-climatic meeting today, May 21, the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities (RCLC) called it quits after 10 years as the so-called voice of its member communities in the Department of Energy’s (DOE) management of Los Alamos National Laboratory. Already pared down to a core constituency, the members present today—the city of Santa Fe, Los Alamos County, the town of Taos, the city of Española, and Rio Arriba County—voted unanimously to “take all actions to wind down and terminate the RCLC.” The only board member who chose to address this decision beyond thanking members for their participation was town of Taos councilor Darien Fernandez, the current chair of the RCLC. He thanked his constituents for their advocacy (and Los Alamos Reporter Maire O’Neill for her fair reporting) but pointed out that “the Lab is not going away” and there will continue to be a need for community input as it grows and expands.
The RCLC did not fulfill that need. La Jicarita covered it all: former executive director Andrea Romero’s financial malfeasance; the subsequent audits; misrepresentation and failure in its supposed role to increase funding for cleanup; lack of leadership; conflicts of interest by contractor Chicanos Por La Causa New Mexico as well as LANL affiliated board members; and its abysmal failure to show any economic gains for the communities it represents.
Darien Fernandez saw the writing on the wall when both Santa Fe and Taos counties withdrew from the Coalition and the city of Santa Fe was on the verge of doing the same. Longtime critics of the RCLC lobbied these members (membership also includes the Ohkay Owingeh and Jemez Pueblo, which never attended a meeting) with letters, emails, phone calls, attendance at meetings, and anything at their disposal to convince them that the Coalition represents the interests of the DOE, not the interests of the communities, as LANL gears up to begin production of plutonium pits.
Concerns about the RCLC’s mission have been raised since its inception 10 years ago. Its mission statement reads in part, “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).” But the connections between the RCLC and the Rocky Flats Coalition of Local Governments, whose consultants helped in the formation of RCLC and who “assisted in the effort to convert Rocky Flats to a Wildlife Refuge, an outcome which required much lower standards for cleanup than, for example, human residency.” (Jeanne Green, a local Taoseña activist, in a letter to the Taos News.) Green’s point was that their influence on the creation of the RCLC created a credibility gap that the mission of the RCLC is to lobby for cleanup of LANL.
That suspicion was validated when the RCLC threw its support behind the amended New Mexico Environment Department/DOE Consent Order of 2016, which reduced the cleanup funding and the amount of radioactive waste that needs to be treated, from 400,000 cubic meters to 5,000 meters in Area G. The New Mexico Environment Department is now suing DOE to terminate that Consent Order. In the meantime, LANL’s nuclear weapons budget has increased from $1.9 billion to $2.9 billion, 70 percent of all funding.
So much for mission diversification. As for economic development, as reported in La Jicarita, a fiscal impact study by the University of New Mexico Bureau of Business and Economic Research revealed that the Lab’s economic impact on the surrounding counties has been negative. The fiscal impact for individual counties was calculated by comparing the amount of revenue the local governments receive because of the Lab to the costs of services those governments provide for Lab employees and affiliates residing in their counties.
These are the statistics showing what LANL cost each county: Santa Fe County: $1,414,655; Taos County: $809,406; Rio Arriba County: $3,215,566. The fiscal impact on Los Alamos County has been positive: $11,642,589 in Fiscal Year 2017.
Kudos to all those norteños who worked so hard to expose the waste of time and money spent on this failed coalition. While a significant victory, it comes as LANL gears up to produce 30 nuclear bomb triggers, or pits, per year while Savannah River in South Carolina, which has never previously produced them, is scheduled for 50 (if Savannah River is not at production capacity by 2030 those 50 additional pits would be produced at LANL). Nuclear weapons opponents believe that LANL has neither the industrial capacity nor the workforce capable of producing 30 pits per year, much less 80. And it’s not only these groups that are on record doubting the success of its mission: the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the government agency that administers the nation’s nuclear labs; Congress; the Department of Defense; the Albuquerque Journal (it wrote an editorial questioning the mission); the congressional delegation. Yet they continue to lobby for and defend the mission of LANL as our economic engine, despite the evidence to the contrary.
Yes, there’s still much work to do to make a nuclear free world.