The Regional Coalition of LANL Communities is proving itself to be not only irrelevant, but antithetical to the bulk of its mission.
From the beginning of my recent involvement with the RCLC, I have striven to see a way for the Coalition to be of service to the communities it is supposed to serve and represent.
In its present form, I concede that I can find none. My points of concern are funding of the coalition, responsiveness/inclusivity/transparency, follow-through and effectiveness.
Beginning with funding of the Coalition: The vast majority of the Coalition funding comes from the Department of Energy and Los Alamos County. This just seems obvious that on its face, this is a conflict of interest. If the purpose of the Coalition is to be a mouth piece for the DOE, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the National Nuclear Security Administration to communicate to the surrounding communities that all is well on the hill, then all is almost well. To make the whole situation more correct, the DOE and Los Alamos County should completely fund the Coalition and it should be called what it is – a public relations firm. I admit it is unrealistic to expect our poor communities to fund the RCLC in its present form with the $15,000 per month executive director services budget. And we so need something, or somebody. So, how do we get there?
On its website the RCLC claims LANL is the economic engine of Northern New Mexico upon whose success residents depend, and part of their mission is to ensure LANL’s continued funding and success. Again I find conflict of interest in this statement when it is set next to the one that declares they are our voice, and our seat at the table. It’s the old “serving of two masters” dilemma. The relationship LANL and the surrounding communities have is not a one way benevolent setup where by all good things flow down from the hill into the economies and pockets of the folks below. Given the potential impact of the activities on the hill, we should and deserve to have a voice in what goes on at LANL. In order to be our voice, RCLC needs to hear what we have to say, they need to respond, and they need to take the messages on and deliver them. This has very clearly not been the case. The RCLC seems to have spent more time over the past two and a half years on financial housekeeping and securing funding than addressing issues of concern about what NNSA is dong. The first step in any of the issues is to develop and take a position on them. I have no idea if the RCLC has a position on expanded pit production, a Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement prior to expanded pit production or the DP Road cleanup in Los Alamos.
In 2018 executive director Eric Vasquez made published statements that sounded good. He talked about community meetings, demanding answers from LANL and using leverage to get LANL to invest in the communities. But then he brought nothing of measurable benefit to the Coalition communities.
One way public comments at RCLC board meetings are not sufficient to know what our communities concerns and desires are. One structured retreat per year is inadequate to foster open channels of communication. Demanding answers from LANL does not mean accepting the excuses of NNSA as to why a SWEIS is not needed. And investment in our communities is not sprinkling money on top in the form of bus service, student scholarships and funding vocational programs to supply workers for their needs. What is needed, is a regular back and forth communication between RCLC and communities.
As our voice to speak to the DOE et al, a delegation went to Washington, DC and had conversations with numerous congressional staff members and committees, and participated in discussions and seminars. This we were told. Aside from the list of people with whom they spoke, I have found nothing about what went on in DC. What was said in those conversations? What was accomplished? What was gained? These questions have been asked with no response.
Los Alamos County Councilor and RCLC treasurer David Izraelevitz has recently made what I believe is a good faith effort to reach out and communicate. And while he and I disagree on the massive key point of the need for nuclear weapon production at LANL, I believe he understands the need for the RCLC to be responsive to the people it serves, and to be transparent in its operation. And I understand I am not the only constituent of the RCLC. He has brought to the board the idea of a town hall, and the board’s response as I understand it, is to have a town hall about economic development. I’m assuming has to do with the LANL commissioned funded University of New Mexico Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER) report that some members of the board found fault with and so want to fund another report to see if they can get a more suitable answer.
I myself am not interested in discussing the BBER report any further. If a structured town hall is to be conducted, the public must have a voice in determining topics; otherwise it is just more of the same. What is really needed is a number of back and forth discussions between representatives of the board and informed representatives from the communities. Community representatives should include all points of view from the citizen stakeholders. From such meetings, the board would gain a clear action plan with the expectation that they will act.
In short, the RCLC is accountable to its constituency. The communities pay into the support of the coalition and the results should be tangible. Short of this, the RCLC is merely an extension of LANL and NNSA, and of little use to the surrounding communities, and those communities should stop their funding.