BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Inspired by sustainability and resiliency plans created by other communities in New Mexico, a group of Los Alamos County residents is trying to support a similar effort here at home. The group is gathering signatures for a petition asking the County Council to appoint a committee to help Los Alamos and White Rock develop a comprehensive resiliency, energy and sustainability plan with an overall goal of achieving net zero greenhouse gas equivalents (GHGe) on all aspects of County operations.
The Los Alamos Reporter met last week with Heidi Honegger Rogers and Jack Kennison, two members of the group who are hoping to gather a large number of signatures for the petition. The petition asks that the committee be appointed by Council in December and begin meeting by the end of January. The committee, if approved, would include representatives from the County’s Environmental Sustainability Board, the Board of Public Utilities, the Planning and Zoning Commission, the Transportation Board, the County Council, County staff and the community at-large.
The proposed committee would compile information about Los Alamos County’s impact on air pollution, and recommend ways the county could meet the New Mexico State Climate Change Task Force benchmarks by 2030, and the UN Paris Agreement Net Zero GHGe by 2050 goals. An interim report would be due by June 30, 2021 and final recommendations by Dec. 31, 2021
Rogers told the Reporter there is a group of folks in the community that have been talking about climate change and the air pollution that causes climate change. This group has been interested in local and regional energy and GHGe policies. “Our group is interested in exploring what Los Alamos County can do to reduce our collective impact on GHGe and improve our resiliency in the context of ongoing climate change and air pollution problems in New Mexico”. The group that organized the petition includes Katie and Dan Leonard, Kennison and herself.
“We were inspired by the sustainability and resiliency plans from other communities, like Santa Fe, and we want to understand how Los Alamos and White Rock can make similar sustainability plans or resilience plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address indoor and outdoor air pollution. Our community is so different in terms of how we govern ourselves, and for this work, we really need to collaborate across all the boards and departments.” Rogers said. “That was the seed for this citizen petition, to get us all working together.”
She noted that the Environmental Sustainability Board (ESB) has a great sustainability plan for our waste, and the Board of Public Utilities is developing a plan to look at energy and water conservation for Los Alamos County. The other boards are also doing some pieces of this work, including the Transportation Board.
“My understanding is that as a community, folks are already working on this and thinking about it. It would be nice to see a comprehensive plan that goes across the different areas of County operations and other aspects of the community,” Rogers said.
Kennison said he participated in a 10-day virtual Climate Reality Leadership Corps training program with former Vice President Al Gore which teaches people how to inspire action for climate solutions in the community by spreading awareness of the climate crisis.
“It was very exciting to be part of the Zoom conversation with people from Costa Rica, Argentina, Brazil, Canada and from the east and west coast. I’m really proud of the work I completed during the program,” Kennison said.
He noted that Rogers invited him to join the group and that he has been meeting with them since late July. He said trying to get the word out and set up meetings has been daunting in the middle of the pandemic but that bringing groups together such as the League of Women Voters, the Sierra Club and 350 NM is nice for the bigger picture. He is hopeful that a task force of people from the various County departments and the community will be a small enough group to focus on meeting the objectives of the Paris Agreements and what the governor is proposing for New Mexico.
Rogers is a family nurse practitioner and has always been “an environmentalist on the side”. She said she has had the honor of serving on the ESB where she has learned a lot and worked with the incredible people of the Environmental Services Department on things like yard waste and composting and how to reduce trash and waste.
“A couple of years ago I became concerned about climate change, pollution, and the impact it has on New Mexico. I decided to integrate research about these areas into my education and research work at UNM and into my work as a primary care nurse practitioner,” Rogers said. “In 2018 I took a certificate course from Yale School of Public Health on Climate Change and Health. In that course I started to learn more about the health effects from climate change and the impacts we expect from climate change in New Mexico.”
Rogers noted that the state is already experiencing heat, drought and fire but that it’s going to be worse in the next 10 to 30 years in very significant ways.
“There are many health impacts from air pollution, wildfire pollution, methane emission pollution in the Permian Basin and the San Juan Basin and air pollution from the cities from traffic. New Mexicans experience chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, and more hospitalization, more medications are needed, worsening outcomes for people with lung disease. I didn’t release that air pollution also contributes to cardiovascular disease and stroke. On higher air pollution days we see more heart attacks and strokes,” Rogers said.
She noted the impact on neurological functions and said there is some thought that some of the chemicals in air pollution pass through the blood brain barrier and could contribute to depression and dementia and other neurologic diseases.
“As a health care provider, I think about the fact that this is going on with the patients I’m seeing. There’s medicine and lifestyle, but what if the actual air pollution is contributing to this and we could reduce the air pollution and the diseases. That’s been my focus at work,” she said.
Rogers had the opportunity to participate in the Lancet Countdown on Climate and Health which will be published later this year and she is working with a national planetary health work group.
“Part of the reason to do a citizen petition is to pull together people that are thinking about a plan. We want to keep folks informed,” she said. “As we head into the future, we know we’re all going to have to make changes and shifts. We’d like to do them in a way that supports Los Alamos in the best possible way. We don’t know what the answers are but it would be really good to take a look at all the options.”
To sign the petition, go to: