Sen. Udall predicts bright future for LANL

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Former congressman begins new chapter in U.S. Senate

By Carol A. Clark

Newly sworn-in Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., met Thursday with Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Michael Anastasio in Washington, D.C.


In discussing the laboratory’s budget, Udall described Anastasio as “upbeat. He felt good about this budget year,” said Udall during an interview from Washington Thursday evening.


The laboratory’s future looks bright, too, he said, explaining that strong science is needed in all of the challenges facing the world.


“Our national laboratories are front and center in that effort and I’m going to be urging this administration to carve out an important role for us,” Udall said. “Science and scientific endeavors are important to President-elect Obama. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him visit our laboratory very soon.”


All 17 national laboratory directors work together in a group with the energy secretary and Udall said he wants to use that force to help Congress understand the importance of science in finding solutions to current challenges.


“Global warming, infectious diseases, homeland security..., all of this is a big part of the agenda that faces us and science is a part it,” he said, adding that the battery research taking place at LANL is where it can make a big contribution to the country’s next generation of cars.


He and Anastasio will meet on a regular basis, he said. “We’re going to work very hard with our delegation to see that the big challenges are adequately funded,” Udall said.


Udall described his emotions as he was sworn in to the United States Senate at noon Tuesday.


“I was ecstatic, I was excited, I was thrilled,” he said. “It was wonderful having my father and family with me.”


Udall’s wife, Jill Cooper Udall, held the Bible during the swearing in ceremony conducted by Vice President Dick Cheney.


Hundreds of people attended a reception the night before the swearing in ceremony, including many New Mexicans.


“It was great to see so many familiar faces here supporting us,” he said. “This was the vice president's last official act apart from presiding over the joint session of the House and Senate for the counting of the electoral votes.”


Cheney and President George W. Bush are set to leave the White House following Obama's Jan. 20 inauguration.


Udall replaces retired Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M.


“He walked down the aisle with Sen. (Jeff) Bingamen and me when we were sworn in,” Udall said. “He found out my father was here and spent a good lengthy visit with him. He's going to stay in Washington with a foundation and is joining his son, Pete Jr.'s, law firm as a consultant. He and his wife Nancy are staying in the same place so I'm sure we'll see them at social events.”


While there has been concern in losing Domenici's seniority, Udall just found out that he expects to be appointed to two top-level Senate committees – the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and the Committee on Environment and Public Works.


The Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation has a wide jurisdiction, ranging from consumer protection to oversight and expansion of the nation’s communications infrastructure.


The Committee also is responsible for encouraging innovation and promoting science and jurisdiction over the nation's railways, which is critical to a rural state like New Mexico, he said.


“With two of the nation’s preeminent labs and some of the world’s best scientists, New Mexico wins when America invests in innovation,” Udall said. “On the Commerce Committee, I will be able to support the kinds of innovation that our state and our country need.”


Udall also highlighted the Commerce Committee’s role in spurring economic development.


“New Mexico’s future ability to create high-quality jobs depends on having a modern system of transportation and communication,” he said. “We also need strong rules to protect consumers and help American businesses keep the public’s trust. On the Commerce Committee, I will be able to address all of these issues and ensure that my constituents have a strong advocate for their interests.”


The Committee on Environment and Public Works plays the lead role in crafting federal environmental policy and will have a major role in crafting any legislation to address global warming.


The committee helps develop America’s infrastructure plans, a task that will be particularly crucial as Obama and Congress begin to spur infrastructure development as a means for producing American jobs, Udall said. EPW also has jurisdiction over the federal highway bill, which will be reauthorized in 2009.


“New Mexicans care deeply about the issues EPW addresses,” he said. “We want the kinds of public investments that will spur clean energy jobs now and allow our state to prosper for years to come. We want safe roads and bridges and rules that protect our public health and allow us to pass down our natural inheritance to future generations. On this committee, I will be able to help protect New Mexico’s economy today while helping to protect our world for generations to come.”


Udall’s committee assignments will become final when both Senate leaders agree to the new committee ratios and the Senate passes a confirmation resolution.



Udall's life before the Senate


Prior to his election to the Senate, Udall served five-terms in the U.S. Congress and before that he served eight years as New Mexico Attorney General. He voted against the Iraq War in 2002 and urges withdrawal of U.S. troops as soon as practicable.


Udall is an avid supporter of wilderness areas and wildlife, and strongly opposed oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other areas. He guided the 2005 Ojito Wilderness Act through Congress, which created 11,000 new acres of protected lands in New Mexico.


Udall began his career as a law clerk to Chief Justice Oliver Seth of the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals from 1977 to 1978. He became Assistant U.S. Attorney for New Mexico from 1978 to 1981, then Chief Counsel to New Mexico's Health & Environmental Department, a partner in the Miller Law firm and New Mexico's Attorney General from 1990 to 1998. Udall ran twice for Congress, in 1982 and 1988, before winning the 3rd District seat in 1998.


Udall was born May 18, 1948 in Tucson, Ariz. He is one of six children born to Stewart and Erma lee Udall. He earned his bachelor's degree in education from Prescott College in Arizona in 1970, his Bachelor of Law from Cambridge University in Great Britain in 1975 and his J.D. from the University of New Mexico in 1977.