Saturday, November 17, 2012

LANL Radiates Economic Benefits

The Regional Coalition of LANL Communities held their monthly meeting yesterday at Los Alamos Research Park Bldg in Los Alamos, NM; 9:30AM - 12:30PM.

The RCLC is a group of elected local public officials whose aim is to encourage the integration of DOE-LANS-LANL into the local community, so as to improve the economic outlook for local businesses, and perhaps also eventually for local citizens. This is a task which is critical now, according to individual RCLC members, when the many state and local economies are so distressed.

However, even in the best of times, NM is at the bottom of a list of the 50 states of the US in terms of per capita income, and at the very top of a list of the states in terms of federal dollars returned per dollar of federal taxes paid out. NM also leads the nation in the size of the disparity in income of its poorest citizens, in comparison to its richest.

Approximately 12 RCLC members and staff were in attendance today; the meeting was led by RCLC chairman, and Santa Fe mayor, David Coss. There are also ~30 members of the general public in attendance.

In his opening remarks, chairman Coss  recalled the recent tour taken by RCLC members of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, in southern New Mexico. Mayor Coss allowed that RCLC members had been favorably impressed by the tour, and that he personally thought of WIPP as a technological marvel.

This will be the first meeting of RCLC in which the agenda contains an item entitled "Community Voices"; viz., a period of 75 min allotted to local community groups and individuals who signed up in advance, and will present ~5 min talks describing their perspectives on issues relating to LANL, its operations, and its interactions with the local community. Formerly, the general public had not been invited to speak at RCLC meetings.

Among the community voices being heard today were:

1) Ray Baca, the Executive Director fpr NM Building and Construction Trades Council, who spoke about the difficult future confronting the local construction and trades workforce, of which there are now ~700 members at LANL.

2) Jay Coghlan, ED for Nuclear Watch NM, talked about the continued devotion of LANL to the care and feeding of nuclear weapons; ~64% of LANL's current budget, he said, was spent on nuclear weapons work. He thought that,in the future, LANL should focus more on non-proliferation efforts (although not related to the preparation of MOX fuel), and on work connected to the ongoing clean-up of contaminated LANL dump sites.

3) Holly Beaumont, Head of Interfaith Worker Justice, spoke about worker justice issues as being age-old, and of her own perspective on such matters as emanating from the judaic-christian, or abrahamic, tradition.

4) Joni Arends ED of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety spoke about the importance of LANL's Storm Water Permit and the fact that LANL produces contamination that can be carried beyond LANL site boundaries by stormwater runoff. The contaminated stormwater is subject to agreements and oversights which are separate from the those described by the Consent Order, she said.

5) A representative of Tewa Women United spoke about the continuing threat to the traditions of Pueblo peoples presented by ongoing LANL operations. She noted that the threat of contaminated water emanating from LANL property is particularly serious for native women, and for their children, who are among the most vulnerable members of the local community.

6) William Enloe, Chair LA National Bank, and Kevin Holsapple, of the LA Chamber of Commerce, spoke about the importance for local businesses of ensuring stable LANL funding. This is especially critical now, they said, given that the  business climate is being stressed by the stumbling national economy.

7) Chip Chippeaux, Chair of Century Bank of Santa Fe, spoke about the need to ensure stable LANL funding, even though the type of work being performed at LANL is controversial within parts of the local community. He suggested that local community members needed to join forces in their efforts to help to secure stable LANL funding, in spite of the existence of this controversy.

A good deal of the meeting was spent discussing bureaucratic matters of interest to particular RCLC group members. Many of these matters, especially as related to the RCLC budget and to travel on RCLC business by individual RCLC members, were broached by the RCLC ED, De Anza Spaien, and took up `~1 hr of the Coalition's meeting time today.This is not to try to take anything away from Ms. Sapien, who appears to be a competent, and even formidable, ED. Rather, the problem here, if any, lies in the nature of the bureaucratic group.

Comparing the RCLC and the Northern New Mexico Citizens Advisory Board , there are some obvious similarities and differences.

1) Both of these groups are bureaucratic in form and spend a significant fraction of their time and effort in maintaining themselves as such. However, it seems interesting that the annual budget for the RCLC is much smaller than that of the NNMCAB; e.g., ~$200K for the RCLC vs $2 million for the NNMCAB, even though these two groups are of a similar size. (The NNMCAB budget number here may have recently been reduced.) Moreover, the sources of this funding are also different. Whereas, most of the money to run the RCLC now comes from local governments, with only a minor fraction from the DOE, the NNMCAB's entire budget comes from DOE.

2) Therefore, and unsurprisingly, the mandates of these two groups are different. The RCLC is apparently intended to deepen relations between DOE-LANS-LANL and the local community, while seeking to promote the health of LANL as an institution, for the purpose of trying to grow the local economy. By contrast, the NNMCAB is specifically mandated by the DOE to help to smooth relations between DOE-LANS-LANL and the local community, in order to promote the well-being of LANL, but only incidentally to promote the well-being of the local community.

3) Nevertheless, the NNMCAB occasionally entertains challenges by individual members to the notion that the influence of LANL on the local community is altogether benign. (The size of these challenges is kept within strict limits, normally, since DOE oversight of the NNMCAB is hands-on and almost always effective.) It remains to be seen whether or not the RCLC will allow the expression of active criticsm of LANL, and its programs, to become a regular part of the RCLC agenda. It is without a doubt that such critical views are a persistent part of the spectrum of views within the local community. What is unknown, however, in my view, is the degree to which such critical views may be prevalent.

4) The reinforcement of pro-LANL views is commonplace at NNMCAB meetings. Information about LANL operations is made available regularly at these meetings by informed and intelligent LANL presenters and the volume of information presented is large. The effect on NNMCAB members of these presentations is usually very positive. In a similar vein, the RCLC heard today from Kurt Steinhaus, LANL Director of the Community Programs Office. Mr. Steinhaus pointed out that LANS donates ~$3 million annually from its management fee (~$75 million, almost all of which is divided among senior LANS managers) to support educational development within the local community.

Finally, a new element in the ongoing drama of relations between DOE-LANS-LANL and the local community was added when the ED of the Energy Communities Alliance, Seth Kirshenberg, delivered a brief introduction to the ECA and its projects. The ECA is an group of communities, each one centered at a DOE laboratory. These labs are, of course, located all around the country. Hence, the ECA tries to express a community of interests and aims to expedite and improve the relations between the DOE, its laboratories, and the surrounding communities nationwide. It was decided today that the RCLC will become a member of the ECA, and that Mayor Coss will attend the upcoming ECA national convention in New Orleans. RCLC member F. Berting (who is an LA County Council member, as well as national secretary of the ECA) may also attend.

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