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Don’t pull the plug on regional coalition

September 16, 2018

I disagree with the editorial that recommended pulling the plug on the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities (Our View, “Pull the plug on regional coalition — it’s time,” Sept. 9). The editorial is wrong to surmise that the coalition cannot recover from controversies regarding questionable expenditures and wrong to urge local governments to opt out as coalition members. I do agree that these expenditures and the weak internal controls and oversight were unacceptable.

This situation served to expose the need for new coalition leadership, policies and procedures to ensure it doesn’t happen again. However, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. We must not get distracted by a manageable, temporal situation and, instead, focus on the long haul.

As mayor of Española at the time and prior to the coalition’s establishment, I was frustrated by the lack of a formal relationship between local governments and Los Alamos National Laboratory and felt that the Northern New Mexico Citizens Advisory Board, a site-specific advisory board to the Department of Energy, lacked the authority to represent affected local governments.

Also, our congressional delegation had repeatedly voiced frustration over having numerous, separate meetings with elected officials whose positions regarding LANL varied widely and, at times, were in conflict. That made it impossible for them to champion effective federal policy. I participated, along with other local leaders, in visiting other communities with DOE facilities and coalitions such as Idaho Falls. We also evaluated coalitions such as the one that successfully oversaw the closure and reclamation of the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant in Colorado.

It was as clear then as it is now — local communities are directly affected by the presence of nearby DOE facilities in the areas of economic development, environmental protection and related federal policy. These local communities, such as our LANL communities, need a collective, unified voice through their elected leaders to credibly address critical issues with energy facility managers, DOE, the National Nuclear Security Administration and Congress. With LANL as the largest economic engine and job supplier in Northern New Mexico, LANL communities have a critical stake in success of the laboratory and need that voice to effect positive change at LANL now and in the future.

Many other energy communities across the country have coalitions that are well-established and effective. They are represented, along with the LANL coalition, in Washington, D.C., by the Energy Communities Alliance — the only nonprofit, membership organization of local governments adjacent to or impacted by DOE activities.

Sure, energy community advocacy can be done separately through various elected officials. However, without a coalition as a formal, regional forum for decision-making and policy development by local elected officials, such advocacy will be fragmented and ineffective, which can lead to lost federal funding and economic development opportunities and weak federal policy.

A major transition period at LANL is underway with a new management team, Triad National Security LLC, scheduled to take full control of management operations Nov. 1. The coalition is needed to follow through on their efforts to ensure the management team’s new Community Commitment Plan builds on the previous plan’s progress. Unprecedented investment and community giving are needed in the next plan to seamlessly continue programs that improve economic, educational and workforce opportunities.

I’m calling on all elected officials who help represent LANL communities to immediately voice their support for the continuation of a reformed coalition and reinforce the need for its continued advocacy, collaboration and partnership with new LANL management team and DOE. The future of Northern New Mexico’s economy is now, and the coalition is a critical advocate for its success.

Joseph Maestas is a former Santa Fe city councilor and served as mayor of Española.

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