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Regional Coalition getting noticed

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Remediation > Delegation in Washington believe that joint efforts are paying off

By Arin McKenna

 

Local representatives of a 13-member delegation of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities who traveled to Washington, D.C. two weeks ago believe their efforts to secure more cleanup funding for Los Alamos National Laboratory are paying off. 

State Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, councilor Steve Girrens, who serves as the county’s alternate member on the coalition, and Deputy County Administrator Brian Bosshardt represented Los Alamos County on the trip. 

“I really want to reiterate how great it was to have this bipartisan, diverse group go and speak in support of LANL,” Garcia Richard said. “This group has really been trying to work on securing funding for the 3706 cleanup. 

“With so much uncertainty happening on the federal level, we went on the trip with the intention of making sure that this cleanup project and just the lab in general are at the foremost in people’s minds, especially the congressional delegation.”

The “3706 cleanup” refers to the 3,706 cubic meters of legacy waste slated for removal by June 30, 2014 in an agreement negotiated between the lab and the New Mexico Environment Department in 2012.

“They see a lot more of the LANL communities than they do other sites, and I believe it’s working,” Bosshardt said.

 “The Senate appropriations bill includes $250 million for site cleanup, and I think that’s a result of our lobbying. So I believe there is a benefit from these trips.”

The coalition advocated for at least $255 million in FY14 to maintain ongoing environmental management efforts at LANL.

“I think the timing of the trip was good, because at that time we were there saying, we’re still advocating for that amount. We’re not backing down,” Girrens said. “When you’re there in their faces advocating a consistent message, and when you fill up their conference rooms with elected people who are all representing various factions, that’s a powerful thing.

“And that was our purpose. We stayed on message. We went there with one message, and you don’t let that get diluted. Get rid of the above ground TRU waste first, and then we’ll worry about the next thing.”

The delegation’s efforts were less successful in the House, which only appropriated $195 million in its proposed budget, a cut of approximately $21 million.

Despite that, all three were optimistic about the coalition’s push to sustain cleanup funding. 

“We’re feeling good about it. There was a time they were talking about imminent layoffs and that they weren’t going to be able to move the waste,” Garcia Richard said. 

“But things are moving from the above ground storage to WIPP (Waste Isolation Pilot Plant). We’ve got an agreement set up with environment department with a deadline for getting that waste moved out to WIPP.”

“I don’t think other communities are as committed as we are. It’s important that those in Washington are seeing multiple communities working together to ensure the long-term health of the lab,” Bosshardt said. “They get a greater understanding of things like the cleanup needs here, the work of the lab and its importance to the local economy.

Garcia Richard was also pleased to see legislation to create the Manhattan Project National Historical Park and to make the Valles Caldera National Preserve part of the national park preserve system moving through both branches of Congress.

“They learned from lessons in trying to get this legislation passed last time around, so they were really trying to gather support about things they knew they could get consensus on,” Garcia Richard said. 

Other conversations, especially those with various agencies, were not as satisfying.

“We were asking some tough questions and they were not forthcoming with answers,” Garcia Richard said. “Foremost in our minds was a site manager for the field office. They’re narrowing it down was basically the best they could tell us.”

Girrens believes the networking between coalition members themselves is significant. 

“It was a lot stronger team building activity than just having a monthly meeting. There’s a more personal bond now with this group. 

“And that comes from all the various interactions that are happening: being crammed in cabs together, standing in lines together, going through security together, standing in hallways,” Girrens said. 

“There’s a value in the social networking that I didn’t appreciate until after it happened. Because of the positive social networking that occurred, this has given me confidence in what this group can accomplish for our next objective.”

Other coalition members on the trip included Chair Santa Fe Mayor David Coss, Vice-Chair Española Mayor Alice Lucero and Secretary/Treasurer Santa Fe County Commissioner Danny Mayfield and Taos City Councilor Andrew Gonzales also traveled to Washington. 

The broader delegation also included Janel Anderson, director of policy and federal relations for Gov. Susana Martinez; Regional Coalition Executive Director DeAnza Sapien; Floyd Archuleta, chair of the LANL Major Subcontractors Assoc.; Geno Zamora, city attorney for the City of Santa Fe; and Eric Vasquez of the Regional Development Corporation.   

The group met with Sen. Martin Heinrich, Rep. Ben Luján (3rd District), Rep. Steve Pearce (2nd District), Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (1st District). Sen. Tom Udall was scheduled to meet with the coalition but had to oversee a committee vote. The delegation met with Udall’s staff instead. 

Meetings also took place with staff from the House and Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittees, the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee and the House Armed Services Committee.

The delegation met with NNSA Acting Administrator Neile Miller and Associate Michael K. Lempke, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Waste Management Frank Marcinowski, DOE-EM, Principal Deputy Administrator Dave Huizenga, Dirk Bartlett, LANL director of federal government relations, DC Office and Bob DeGrasse, vice president and manager of government affairs for Bechtel.

“We’re noted as unusual now, I think, because to be representing such a large region, to have membership from such a large surrounding region of a DOE, and then to be in solidarity, is being noticed,” Girrens said in his report to council. 

“We keep hearing the message, ‘keep coming back.’ We’re being seen as the popular voice in the region, and that has a significant impact. It’s appreciated and welcomed.”