Friday, June 8, 2007
By Jeff Jones
Journal Politics Writer
A House plan to cut U.S. nuclear weapons programs could result in 2,000 lost jobs at New Mexico's two national labs and do "irreparable damage" to national security, two members of the state's congressional delegation warned Thursday.
Republican Reps. Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce, in a letter to House Appropriations Committee leaders, said the cuts would "devastate" Los Alamos National Laboratory's ability to ensure that the nation's nuclear arsenal is safe and reliable.
"These deep cuts are unprecedented in the history of the nuclear weapons program," they wrote to chairman Dave Obey, D-Wis., and Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., the ranking Republican member.
Wilson was even more blunt in a telephone interview. "This guts the nuclear weapons programs," she said.
Sandia spokesman Michael Padilla, in a written statement, said the proposed cuts "could result in as much as a $150 million impact to Sandia's nuclear weapons program, including both Sandia New Mexico and California sites."
But Padilla said other programs at Sandia could see a $25 million funding boost for the next fiscal year.
Wilson said that, based on the two labs' own projections, the proposed cuts could result in 1,500 to 2,000 job losses— most of them at LANL.
Other members of the state's congressional delegation, including Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., have also expressed concern.
However, Bingaman's tone in a Thursday statement sounded less alarmed than that of the two House Republicans: He pointed out that this week's vote was an early step in a long process and added that he will continue working to ensure the labs get the money they need.
A staffer for Bingaman has pegged the amount of the proposed cuts lower than Wilson and Pearce, saying that, when compared with the current, fiscal 2007 budget, the cuts to the entire national weapons complex would total $400 million.
The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved the energy budget that includes significant cuts in U.S. weapons programs. The full House would still need to vote on the measure, while a Senate subcommittee is expected to come up with its own version.
Wilson and Pearce pegged the cuts in the appropriations bill at nearly $500 million for LANL and $100 million for Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque when compared with President Bush's proposal.
"These are some of our nation's premier scientists and engineers who have knowledge and experience that is irreplacable," Wilson and Pearce said in their letter.
The letter said that, in the absence of actual nuclear testing, the U.S. has relied on LANL to certify the country's arsenal is safe, secure and reliable.
"This budget would devastate the Stockpile Stewardship program at Los Alamos by reducing the capability to simulate nuclear explosions," the New Mexico members wrote. "If this bill becomes law, Los Alamos will not have the tools needed to assess and certify 80 percent of America's nuclear stockpile without returning to nuclear testing."
LANL spokesman Kevin Roark declined to comment on the specifics of the funding bill but reiterated, "This is the very first step in a long budget process. It's really too early to speculate or to project."
Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., a member of the appropriations committee, voted against the funding-cut bill but called on LANL to diversify its mission.
"If you really want to talk about national security, we need to be looking toward the future to make sure we're energy-independent," Udall chief of staff Tom Nagle said Thursday. "Tom Udall is trying to make sure the labs compete for all that new money (for energy research)."