Opinion: Recent scandal at LANL coalition creates opportunity

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A recent scandal surrounding some of the Regional Coalition of Los Alamos National Laboratory Communities Board members has been getting a lot of media attention in recent weeks. Most people aren't aware of this organization that represents them.

The regional coalition describes itself this way: "The Regional Coalition is a conduit for Northern New Mexico communities to make a direct impact on local, state and federal government decision-making in regional economic development and nuclear cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratories. The Regional Coalition is comprised of elected and tribal officials representing their local communities to ensure national decisions incorporate local needs and interests."

The uproar arose when records of questionable expenditures by RCLC board members and their executive director, Andrea Romero, were acquired via an "Inspection of Public Records Act" request made by Northern New Mexicans for Land, Water and Rights.

NNMP revealed improper spending of taxpayer money by some board members, which involved a lavish, alcohol included, dinner in Washington D.C., the price of major league baseball tickets and more that resulted in a shake-up in the organization. The executive director's contract was not renewed. And, more important for Northern New Mexico citizens, the RCLC was directed to review and revise its founding document, the "joint powers agreement."

The regional coalition is holding its meeting Friday (April 6) from 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at the Taos County chambers. It is the first opportunity to change the language in the JPA to accurately reflect the coalition's stated purpose since the formation of the RCLC in 2011.

The JPA is in conflict with the coalition's stated purpose and contradicts what the communities were told the raison d'etre was at the time they were recruited to join the coalition.

They were told that among other endeavors, the coalition would lobby Washington for increased funding for cleanup of radioactive waste at LANL, not for funding for the Department of Energy's LANL mission of plutonium pit production.

Plutonium pits are the cores for exploding nuclear bombs. Their production creates large amounts of radioactive waste that poses a real danger to the regional communities' water, soil, health and safety. In addition, they are unnecessary since the U.S. already has a stockpile in excess of 15,000 pits.

The regional coalition website also states that it "works in partnership to create one voice to ensure national decisions incorporate local needs and concerns."

‚ÄčIn keeping itself to that statement, here are the issues that should be addressed at tomorrow's meeting:

1) Removal of the phrase in the JPA: " 2a(ii) Advocacy of long-term stable funding for LANL missions" (i.e., lobbying for money for nuclear bomb production at LANL).

2) Conflict of Interest: Aside from the executive director, the members on the RCLC Board must not be currently or formerly employed by LANL or Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque. This is an obvious conflict of interest.

3) Public participation: RCLC board members must provide provisions for public participation. The board members, some of whom are also LANL employees, only provide a 15-minute public comment period at the end of each meeting. In some cases, the board members and LANL officials begin to leave during the comment period. This is a wholly inadequate procedure as it fails to provide the opportunity for constituents to engage with their representatives and have their concerns addressed or even heard.

If the regional coalition refuses to hear and act on these citizen requests, we must demand that the town of Taos and Taos County withdraw from the coalition.

This is extremely short notice and the meeting is at a terrible time for working folks to go. However, I hope anyone who can will attend at least part of the meeting to show our concern for the urgent importance of adequate cleanup funding at Los Alamos National Lab.

To read the joint powers agreement visit regionalcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/RC-of-LANL-Communities-Joint-Powers-Agreement.pdf. For more information, call (575) 770-2629.

Suzie Schwartz is a 35-year resident of Taos County.

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