BY MAIRE O’NEILL
The next couple of months may determine the demise of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities. The City of Santa Fe opted last month not to approve the RCLC’s amended and restated joint powers agreement which has been hanging out there waiting for the City’s decision since March 2019. The City is slated to decide whether to withdraw completely from the RCLC later this month.
The Taos County Commission is slated to decide Tuesday whether it wishes to continue as a member and Santa Fe County Commissioners have the same decision to make at their May 11 meeting.
Los Alamos County Council is expected to discuss its RCLC status in June which will be the first time the Council will have had an agenda item on the RCLC since it approved the amended JPA in July of 2020. The discussion is at the request of Council Vice Chair James Robinson. Councilor David Izraelevitz, who serves as RCLC treasurer, has been a strong advocate of the RCLC and has recently addressed several meetings of members of the Santa Fe City Council at the behest of Councilor Michael Garcia to encourage them to approve the amended JPA. City of Espanola Mayor Javier Sanchez also attended a Santa Fe City Council meeting to advocate and answer questions.
At last month’s RCLC meeting, Nancy Long, the RCLC’s contract attorney noted that the amended and restated joint powers agreement for the RCLC which was approved by the board in March 2019, was approved by all of the participating entities except the City of Santa Fe and Jemez Pueblo. However the issue that has arisen is that former RCLC executive director Eric Vasquez apparently never circulated signature pages to all the entities that approved the revised JPA. Since Vasquez’s departure last August, RCLC board members have been attempting to tie up loose ends by submitting the grant application to the Department of Energy for some $100,000 and finalizing the new JPA. The board has not been successful in finding a new executive director through an RFP process.
Long said her office had been working on requesting the signature pages so that the JPA could be forward to the Department of Finance & Administration for approval. She noted that she received a signature page from Ohkay Owingeh, Los Alamos County, the Town of Taos and the City of Espanola. Although Long indicated that Taos County and Santa Fe County were working on getting their signature pages to her, it is not yet clear whether or not either County will actually remain in the Coalition.
At the Taos County Commission’s April 20 meeting, commissioners were told that when Vasquez came before the commission in November 2019 and presented the amended JPA, the document was never signed because it was never submitted to the governing bodies for signature. Taos County was asked to have Commissioner Mark Gallegos sign the amended JPA because he was on the Commission at the time and in fact was the County’s representative to the RCLC. Current representative to the RCLC, Commissioner Darlene Vigil noted that the RCLC is not fulfilling engagement with the community in a way that is effective. She said he felt Taos County Commissioners’ voices would be more effective in their respective positions than as members of the RCLC.
Vigil also noted that there has not been any interest in the executive director position and that it appears that the Pueblos of Jemez and Ohkay Owingeh do not have representation at the RCLC meetings even though they are members. She said the RCLC website does not lend to its claim of transparency and that even though those on the board are making every attempt, “It’s just not happening”.
Commissioner Jim Fambro and County Attorney Randy Autio seemed to have different recollections of when the RCLC came into being. Fambro recalled that there was supposed to be some big economic impact in all of the communities that joined it but said to his knowledge, Taos County never received anything. Commissioner Anjeanette Brush questioned what benefit has been gained or will be gained from RCLC membership, asking why be a part of an organization where the benefit to the County isn’t clear.
Autio recalled his time as Los Alamos County Attorney and Acting Administrator in 2010-2011.
“The design of the (RCLC) was the belief that the economic value of LANL to the region was worthy of the participants supporting it so that the Lab could continue on as a vital part of the Department of Energy programs and continue to bring jobs to the area. So that was the main focus while I was there,” he said.
“We all know there are benefits and burdens from being a nuclear weapons manufacturing site. We have all the environmental issues that we all know about and we have the fact that it does produce jobs, and I simply wanted you to hear the background of what I remember of the time. (The RCLC) was formed to assist the Labs with support from the local communities who recognized the economic benefits of the jobs the Labs create for the region and that was the primary purpose that I recall,” Autio said.
Taos Town Councilor Darien Fernandez, who has been on the RCLC board for several years and was recently elected chair, is expected to address the Taos County Commission Tuesday prior to its decision.
Also last month, former RCLC chair Santa Fe County Commission Chair Henry Roybal asked for an agenda item May 11 to discuss the amended JPA. He also notified his fellow commissioners that a signature was never acquired from the commission in 2019 and that he had been asked about acquiring one.
Roybal asked that Santa Fe County Attorney Greg Shaffer get with Long so that he could give a comprehensive update to the “clerical changes” to the JPA.
“We had a couple of different advocate groups that felt Santa Fe County shouldn’t participate in the RCLC any longer, but I also had Commissioners that mentioned their concerns with the RCLC. I think we’ve all seen the emails and I’ve heard some comments and concerns from our Commission and so I want to make sure that we’re taking all that into consideration and see what the Commission wants and Santa Fe County as a whole wants as far as the RCLC,” Roybal said. “I hope to hear from our board as far as the County’s commitment and where we are with being on this board in the future.”
Long said at the last RCLC meeting that she had not heard back from Rio Arriba County on the request for a signature and had recently contacted their attorney to see if she could answer any questions or find out what the hold-up is. Nobody has represented Rio Arriba County at the last two RCLC meetings.
“My suggestion would be that we continue to try to get those signature pages. Obviously at some point we’ll get an answer that we’ll get the page, we’ll hear that they just won’t provide it, or we just won’t hear anything but I really think this full-on press that we’ve been involved in to get these probably deserves a little more time and we will continue to work to get those signatures,” Long told the RCLC board.
Asked how the board can submit the amended JPA without the approval of the City of Santa Fe, Long said the City has indicated they do not approve the JPA so they will be removed from it.
“They are still one of the parties of the original JPA and members of the RCLC but I understand they will be moving to withdraw from the organization. So we will submit the amended and restated JPA without the City of Santa Fe’s signature because they have not approved it. We do not want to represent that they have, so we will have to remove that,” she said.
During public comment at that meeting, the RCLC board heard again from Taos County resident Tom Allen who called for the disbanding of the RCLC. Allen complained that the communities need a voice but that there is no meaningful back and forth between the LANL communities and Los Alamos National Laboratory and its contractors. He said people in Taos County are just not feeling like the RCLC is working in their best interest and that if they are going to have a seat at the table, the board is going to have to make itself available to them in some sort of meaningful way.
“Yes we need a seat at the table, but the Coalition is proving not to be the seat we need” Allen said.
Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico complained that the RCLC main selling point was to lobby for mission diversification and accelerated cleanup and said he would argue that the Coalition has been a spectacular failure on both counts.
“When the Coalition was founded in 2011, LANL’s nuclear weapons budget was $1.9 billion. A decade later that budget is $2.9 billion and the total spending on core nuclear weapons research and production has risen year after year to where now it’s a full 70 percent of all funding and all of the remaining 30 percent either directly or indirectly supports those nuclear weapons,” Coghlan said.
He said the RCLC explicitly supported the 2016 Consent Order governing LANL cleanup and threw its weight behind it.
“And as an example of how miserable that Consent Order is, the New Mexico Environment Department is now suing DOE to terminate that Consent Order. RCLC in 2016 crowed and boasted about a baseline cost estimate DOE came out with for cleanup and DOE lowballed that cleanup estimate at $3.8 billion and most egregiously to my mind, stated that there was only 5,000 cubic meters of radioactive waste to be treated when LANL’s own documents state there’s at least 400,000 cubic meters of radioactive waste in Area G alone,” Coghlan said.
He complained that the amended JPA cites the common interests between the parties but that 80 percent of the RCLC’s funding is by either DOE or Los Alamos County and that both entities are very aggressively pushing for expanded pit production and that is not a common interest the citizens of Santa Fe share. He concluded by arguing that the RCLC doesn’t speak for local governments or in the best interests of Northern New Mexico and that it would be best for local governments to leave the RCLC>
Longtime RCLC critic Erich Kuerschner said the new JPA reads basically the same as the old one except for trying to change the fiscal agent and the accounting process to avoid basically illegal lobbying. He said most importantly all of the old JPA language he and others have been fighting for 10 years – to allow the RCLC to promote LANL as a weapons factory and to expand the manufacturing of weapons instead of simply maintaining the stockpile – are retained in the amended JPA.
“Ensuring consistency with community values is dropped from all these clauses. Why should limited RCLC funds be used to promote LANL, an entity with deep pockets in a wealthy neighborhood? The advocacy in state and federal legislation processes is retained but a clause was added that specifies that lobbying these officials should now be consistent with state and federal law requirements. It should have been a no-brainer. After 10 years the RCLC finally recognizes that community oversight from all of us attending these meetings will no longer allow criminal actions to be condoned,” Kuerschner said.
Kuerschner said the RCLC is not doing the community any good, but is doing it considerable harm and asked that the board shut it down.
Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety executive director Joni Arendts said CCNS has been observing the RCLC since inception and encourages the board to dissolve itself. She said CCNS support the City of Santa Fe’s vote not to approve the amended JPA and that it was a bold statement.
“We need to be thinking about protecting that regional drinking water aquifer that extends from Tres Piedras clear down to Galisteo, the Espanola Basin regional drinking water aquifer. We need to be pushing for the LANL scientists to figure out how to do something besides pump and treat, scoop and move, and hide and hold as cleanup. As elected officials, you individually could be pushing for real cleanup but not within this body that’s funded by the Department of Energy and Los Alamos National Laboratory. Collectively, we have a job to do and that’s to protect the regional drinking water aquifer,” Arendts said.
She said nobody knows how big or deep the aquifer is in order to understand what a resource it is.
“And we keep allowing LANL to pollute it and dink around with pump and treat on the chromium plume, dink around with the PCBs that are showing up in the springs at the Rio Grande. PFAS – they only want to sample three kinds of PFAS when we know that there’s technology to sample for 18. This is a crisis. This is not about plutonium pit production. This is about protecting the precious water so that people can continue to grow food, and people can support themselves going forward. CCNS’s goal is to shift the conversation,” Arendts said.