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.
But municipalities have recently questioned whether the organization is the best way to lobby the laboratory and some have explored whether they should be a member.
The Taos County Commission voted 4-1 to leave the coalition last week. The city of Santa Fe’s Quality of Life Committee has endorsed a resolution to pull the city from the group. The City Council is expected to discuss the matter May 26.
Santa Fe County had already agreed to an amended agreement with the coalition in 2019. The agreement, among other changes, allowed Los Alamos County to drop its role as fiscal agent, a position it held since the group was formed.
County Commissioner Anna Hansen said in her decade watching the coalition she has not seen a concerted effort to diversify mission goals or encourage for more cleanup at the lab, adding she believes the commission has more leverage than the coalition to advocate for that work.
Commissioner Anna Hamilton called the coalition “dysfunctional.”
“As good as it sounds to have one voice where you can bring in all these communities, I don’t actually believe that is happening, and I think as a result it is appropriate to let it go,” she said.
During the public comment period, Joni Arends, executive director of the nuclear watchdog group Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, urged the commission to withdraw from the agreement.
She said the local regional coalition was organized in a similar way to one that oversaw insufficient nuclear contamination cleanup efforts at the Rocky Flats facility near Denver.
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.
Critics of the order, agreed to under former Gov. Susana Martinez, say it’s weaker than a 2005 agreement by removing hard deadlines and penalties for poor cleanup work.
The state Environment Department filed a complaint seeking an end to the 2016 consent order in February and a more robust legacy cleanup schedule.
“The regional coalition essentially sold itself as having two main goals,” Coghlan said. “To promote mission diversification and promote accelerate cleanup. I would state it failed miserably in both.”
The coalition has had its share of issues.
Along with fees from local government members, the coalition had been funded with a $100,000 annual grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. In 2019, however, the Energy Department’s inspector general recommended the federal agency seek reimbursement of up to $300,000 after accusing the organization of failing to account for spending and engaging in prohibited lobby practices.
The year before, the state auditor also identified spending issues involving Andrea Romero, who served as the group’s executive director. Romero is now a state representative. The coalition has been unable to hold on to an executive director since deciding not to renew Romero’s contract.
Roybal said the coalition stands on “unsteady grounds.”
“This just cannot continue to function in this manner,” he said.