Coalition gets heads-up on D.C.

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Region: Attorney gives local politicians an inside look

By John Severance

Attorney Seth Kirshenberg has his finger on the pulse of Washington.

The D.C. based attorney has helped Los Alamos County with issues regarding the Department of Energy. And he also is the director of the Energy Communities Alliance of which the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities is a member.

Kirshenberg was in town Friday to address the coalition and offer it a glimpse in what to expect in Washington now that the election season is over.

Kirshenberg told the coalition that there are three things it needs to be doing as the New Year approaches.

He said the coalition needs to plan ahead, identify priorities and understand the environment in Washington.

“And that is not always easy,” said Kirshenberg, who works at the firm Kutak Rock in Washington.

Primary issues facing the lame-duck Congress is a possible fiscal cliff where sequestration might take effect if a budget agreement is not in place by the end of the year. Sequestration would trigger mandatory budget cuts of $1.2 trillion and would cause massive financial headaches for DOE facilities including the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The national election left little changed with the U.S. Senate in Democratic control and the U.S. House remains in Republican control. The FY 13 budget is still operating under a continuing resolution and Kirshenberg said the FY2014 budget process has already begun.

Kirshenberg told the coalition about some of the gossip going on in Washington.

“We love this stuff,” Kirshenberg said. “People love to gossip in Washington. It’s like our E-Channel.

Part of the scuttlebutt Kirshenberg shared was that Energy Secretary Steven Chu is expected to leave his post. Kirshenberg said some of the names he has heard as possible replacements for Chu include Bron Dorgan, a former senator from North Dakota;  Jennifer Granholm, former Michigan Governor;  John Podesta, chairman for Center for American Progress; and Dan Reicher, former assistant secretary of Energy under President Clinton.

Kirshenberg said he is also hearing that NNSA administrator Thom D’Agostino may leave his post soon as well.

“There have been some problems the past year with the security issues and the CMRR deferment but we think he has done a good job in D.C.,” Kirshenberg said.

Kirshenberg said the top contender to replace D’Agostino is acting Environmental Management assistant secretary Dave Huizenga and he also thinks that whoever replaces Chu will have a say in the selection.

Kirshenberg then gave the coalition a rundown on who sits on the various congressional committees as the coalition plans for another possible trip to Washington to push for more cleanup funding for LANL.

Kirshenberg advised the group to plan for a March visit to Washington.

“Think of your priorities now and make sure you have them ready before you come to Washington,” Kirshenberg said.

Coalition members seem to agree the top priority for the group has to be cleanup for LANL.
Joni Arends of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety asked the coalition when it is developing priorities not to forget funding for storm water runoff.

CCNS is part of a group called the Communities for Clean Water.

“In order to ensure the good health of watersheds downstream and downwind from LANL and the good health of the Rio Grande and its tributaries so they can provide safe drinking water, clean water for irrigation and pure natural water for sacred ceremony now and in the future, LANL’s historic waste must be cleaned up now,” Arends said.

Nuclear Watch’s Jay Coghlan, meanwhile, had an interesting take on the cleanup process at the lab and had an idea for more job growth.

He said the lab estimate of full clean-up and offsite disposal of Area G wastes at $29 billion is a joke.

“We believe that when LANL wants to do something it lowballs the estimate. For example the lab originally priced the CMRR at $660 million in 2004, but that cost increased almost 10-fold in 8 years. The flip side is that when the lab doesn’t want to do something it grossly inflates the cost estimate, such as its estimated $29 billion for comprehensive cleanup of Area G, a figure that even NMED officials ridicule in private.”

Coghlan said Nuclear Watch New Mexico has calculated clean-up costs for Area G by extrapolating actual costs from the nearly completed cleanup of Material Disposal Area B and cross-checking that against recently released estimates for cleanup of MDA C.

“But don’t trust us. What we are trying to do is spur LANL and NMED to calculate realistic cost projections so that we can have an informed debate over Area G cleanup,” Coghlan said.

“What we found is that comprehensive clean-up should cost around the same estimated $6 billion that the CMRR would have cost. But instead of $6 billion for an unneeded plutonium facility for expanded nuclear weapons production that wouldn’t produce a single new permanent job, $6 billion for comprehensive clean up of Area G would be a win-win for New Mexicans. It would permanently protect the environment, groundwater and the Rio Grande while creating hundreds of long-term high paying jobs.”

The coalition meeting lasted nearly three hours and other presentations were made as well. More on the coalition meeting can be found in next week’s editions of the Los Alamos Monitor.