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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Tom Udall Votes Against NM National Lab Cuts

Rep. Tom Uall (NM-03) was the sole nay vote yesterday against a House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water FY09 budget proposal that includes spending cuts related to nuclear weapons for New Mexico's two national labs.

Provisions in the bill would reportedly eliminate about $145.3 million in funding for a billion dollar plutonium pit production program at Los Alamos National Labs and effectively shut down the so-called Reliable Replacement Warhead project. It also cuts about $100 million in construction funds -- mostly for LANL's Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) project, which is already being built. The new CMMR building is designed to replace several aging strucures involved in nuclear materials research. The measure would also reduce spending related to nuclear weapons at Sandia National Labs in Albuquerque.

Udall released a statement explaining his vote and stressing that he believes the labs need to look to the future and expand their mission beyond a Cold War focus. Excerpt:

“For more than a year, I have worked extensively with our labs to encourage growth in new areas of research as a way to ensure their long-term viability and to move towards the future. In addition to their indispensible role maintaining our essential nuclear arsenal, I believe the labs’ work should grow in the areas of nuclear nonproliferation, homeland security, counterterrorism, intelligence analysis and expanded energy research. We also must provide adequate funding for the cleanup of hazardous legacy waste from the labs.

“By collaborating with the lab leadership and the NNSA, I believe my goals of diversifying the labs and growing them in new areas are beginning to be realized. But there are still obstacles in our path.

Talk about being between a rock and a hard place. Udall must balance what he clearly understands is necessary to ensure a future for the labs with protecting New Mexico jobs while the labs transition to a 21st century mission quite distinct from its now obsolete Cold War focus. He frames his vote against the cuts against this background:

“Today, the House Energy and Water Subcommittee’s Appropriations proposal was brought before the full committee for a vote. And although this legislation contains many good provisions, it does not provide a path to the future for our national laboratories, and I could not support it. This bill not only cuts critical programs that are essential to the strength of our labs and the security of our nation, it rescinds funding that LANL and Sandia have already been promised and have budgeted for the current fiscal year.

In other words, Udall indicates he's voting against the cuts because they aren't accompanied by adequate new spending for a change in mission for the labs, and because the bill rescinds promised funding that has shaped the labs' budgets in the current year.

Moving Into the Future
Ultimately, Udall's vote is meaningless, except in political terms. He was heavily outvoted on the committee and change is coming to the labs one way or the other. Lab supporters can either stubbornly resist the inevitable or see the handwriting on the wall and embrace a shift in direction. It's evident that a majority of the Congress views the current focus of our national labs on making more nuke weapons as wasteful and out of tune with 21st century concerns.

The message is clearly being sent that nuclear weapons activities should be put on hold until the U.S. develops a comprehensive new strategy for the coming decades. And it's also clear that that strategy will strongly emphasize nuclear non-proliferation, research on renewable energy production, nuke waste cleanup and intelligence analysis -- not a new generation of nuclear weapons.

I think it's unfortunate that Udall felt compelled to vote against the cuts, but I also believe the brunt of the blame for our current situation should go to Sen. Pete Domenici and his cohorts. Domenici, by focusing almost exclusively on "protecting" the labs' historical Cold War mission way beyond its usefulness and meaning in the real world, has effectively jeopardized the labs' ability to transition to a mission that makes sense in today's much changed geopolitical and energy climate.

The transition should have begun long ago, but because Domenici and others have stubbornly resisted change, the transition will be harder on New Mexicans and may even mean an abandonment of Sandia and LANL. Change or die. Unfortunately, Domenici and others who continue to cling to a Manhattan-Project-style mentality are actually increasing the odds that the labs will be judged to be expendable as we move forward into an era far removed from the Cold War.

Despite his vote yesterday, it's plain that Tom Udall gets it, and just as plain that Steve Pearce, his GOP rival in the U.S. Senate race, does not.

Read the coverage by the Albuquerque Journal and the Santa Fe New Mexican.

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June 26, 2008 at 10:20 AM in 2008 NM Senate Race, Energy, Nuclear Arms, Power | Permalink

Comments

Ok now it is time to vote FOR some funding for our labs whatever the mission. Please.
We have the facilities, we have the brains. Let's fund some science. Please.

Posted by: qofdisks | Jun 26, 2008 1:45:42 PM