The exodus from the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities continued Tuesday.
“Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, agreed, adding he believed the coalition effectively stood in the way of site cleanup by supporting a 2016 consent order.”
The Santa Fe County Commission voted unanimously to ditch the coalition after some commissioners voiced concerns that the body was no longer the proper vehicle to advocate for site cleanup and mission diversification at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
“The mission of the RCLC and the attempt of the collaboration is admirable,” said commission Chairman Henry Roybal, who stepped down as chairman of the Regional Coalition of Los Alamos National Laboratory Communities this year. “However with the progress, it does not seem like this vehicle is the best avenue to express this collaborative voice. There are so many things that just aren’t where they need to be.”
The coalition was formed in 2011 and consists of local and tribal governments. It was created to provide local governments an opportunity to advocate for jobs, environmental cleanup and other priorities at the laboratory.
Each member organization pays annual dues to be a member, with Santa Fe County at $10,000.
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.
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.
The Santa Fe City Council has rejected an amended joint powers agreement with the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities over concerns about the organization’s impact and one councilor’s plan to introduce a measure removing the city from the group.
“I don’t think we should just approve an updated JPA because we want to go along to get along,” said City Councilor Renee Villarreal, who noted she intends to propose the city end its affiliation with the coalition. “Some of my colleagues say we should have a seat at the table, but I think we should have it at the right table.”
The council voted 5-3 against the agreement, with Mayor Alan Webber and Councilors Carol Romero-Wirth and Jamie Cassutt-Sanchez voting in favor. City Councilor Michael Garcia, the city’s representative on the coalition, abstained.
Rejecting the agreement does not pull the city out of the organization.
Villarreal has been the loudest critic of the coalition, which was established in 2011 to give communities surrounding Los Alamos National Laboratory more of a voice in its job development and cleanup. She questioned in previous committee meetings how the city stood to benefit.
“Our values have not aligned,” Villarreal said. “I’m trying to understand changing the JPA, what does that change? How does our voice actually get heard since it hasn’t been heard the last 10 years?”
The Santa Fe City Council will vote on March 31 to adopt or not the Amended Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) among seven local governments and two Pueblos to continue the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities (RCLC). Separately, at a date yet to be determined, the City Council may consider whether or not to continue participation in the Coalition.
The City of Santa Fe should reject the Amended Joint Powers Agreement because the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities has wholly failed to live up to the stated goals of the original JPA.
- The RCLC was first formed in 2011. Local governments bought into it on the premise that the Coalition would successfully lobby for mission diversification and accelerated cleanup. After spending two million taxpayer dollars on itself the Coalition has been a spectacular failure in both.
- The Amended JPA states: “the Parties share a common interest in assuring that LANL’s missions remain sustainable and diversified…” The Department of Energy (DOE) and Los Alamos County have provided 80% of RCLC’s funding. The County specifically cites the “interdependent needs of LANL and Los Alamos County.” DOE and Los Alamos County explicitly seek expanded production of plutonium “pit” bomb cores, in which the City of Santa Fe does not share a common interest. Expanded pit production is LANL’s overwhelming growth area (270% increase from $308 million in FY 2020 to $847 million in FY 2021). Concerning “common interests,” DOE completely ignores City resolutions calling for resolution of nuclear safety problems before pit production expansion, comprehensive cleanup and a new site-wide environmental impact statement (particularly important for wildfire protection).
“We have RCLC, which is funded primarily by the Department of Energy funds, yet DOE doesn’t necessarily listen to the resolutions that we put forward about reducing plutonium pit production. They don’t ask us what we think as city of Santa Fe residents.”
Mar. 18—Concerns from City Councilor Renee Villarreal over how the city of Santa Fe would benefit by remaining in an amended joint power agreement with the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities continued during Wednesday night’s Quality of Life Committee meeting.
Santa Fe is one of nine cities, counties, towns and tribal governments that make up the regional coalition, which was established in 2011 to give communities in Northern New Mexico more say in decision-making related to job development and cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Villarreal, however, questioned how the coalition advocates for city policy stances on requests for expanded cleanup at the site and the reduction of plutonium pit production.
Summary: Local governments get little in return for being members of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities (RCLC). That is because the Coalition is ineffective, dysfunctional, wastes taxpayers’ money and stands in the way of genuine, comprehensive cleanup at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The RCLC was created to serve the interests of the Department of Energy and Los Alamos County, both of whom strongly support expanded plutonium pit production for new nuclear weapons and supply 80% of the Coalition’s funding. The Regional Coalition brings no discernible economic benefit to local governments other than already rich Los Alamos County because the Lab’s presence is an economic net loss to them. Local governments should not put their time and money into the Coalition. Instead, their constituents would be better served if local governments left the coalition and advocated for comprehensive cleanup that would permanently protect the environment while providing hundreds of high paying jobs.
In 2011 the Department of Energy pulled promised funding from the Community Involvement Fund administered by the New Mexico Community Foundation that supported independent, often critical citizen and tribal analyses of DOE cleanup programs. At the same time DOE began funding the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities modeled on earlier alliances with local governments around the Rocky Flats Plant near Denver, CO and the Mound Plant, near Mound, OH.
BY: Kyle Land /
What’s the actual benefit to the city?
That was the question Santa Fe city councilors debated Monday as they considered the city’s membership in the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities.
At the center of it all was a revised Joint Powers Agreement for the coalition, which officials hope will solve some of the group’s long-standing organizational issues.
BY: Sean P. Thomas firstname.lastname@example.org / Updated
Santa Fe City Councilor Renee Villarreal renewed her concerns Monday about the city’s involvement in a joint powers agreement with the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities.
During a Finance Committee meeting Monday, Villarreal said she has yet to understand how the city benefits from the agreement, which calls for a $10,000 contribution.
“Why is it important we are part of this coalition?” she asked. “It’s never been clear to me about the benefits and how it holds up the values that we care about in Santa Fe.”
The city is one of nine cities, counties, towns and tribal governments that make up the regional coalition, which was established in 2011 to give communities in Northern New Mexico a more official say in decision-making pertaining to job development and cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
But controversy emerged in recent years over the organization’s spending practices.