Jun 12, 2007
June 12, 2007
U.S. Rep. Tom Udall is getting criticized for his opposition to the looming budget cuts facing Los Alamos National Laboratory. Udall has voiced opposition to the proposed cuts, which could result in layoffs to as much as 20 percent of the workforce. But Udall also supports diverting the mission of the lab to more energy research.
But much of the work done at Los Alamos -- roughly 57 percent, according to the lab -- is weapons related. That work employs thousands of voters in Udall's district, which includes Los Alamos, Santa Fe and all of Northern New Mexico.
Yet Democrats want less weapons and more energy research and basic science. The House Appropriations Committee has already put more money into those areas.
Udall has said he plans to vote against the 2008 fiscal year committee budget that covers the U.S. Department of Energy and Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories. Los Alamos would take a $500 million hit out of its $2.1 billion budget, U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., has said. He also told radio reporters on Monday that laying off 20 percent of the workers at Los Alamos is not the way to get changes there. However, Domenici's office has not established specific job cut numbers.
Currently, 12,167 full-time and contract workers are employed at the lab. The 20 percent cut mentioned by Domenici would come to 2,435 people.
A vote by the full House is expected Wednesday. The Senate, which often puts more money into lab programs, is expected to release its version of the bill later this month.
Udall said that the private company that manages the lab, Los Alamos National Security, LLC, must diversify its mission to compete for the new energy research money.
"The national labs are in a great position to tackle those challenges and make a contribution, and I hope to see the lab to do more of that type of work in the future," Udall said in a recent interview.
New Mexico Republicans ripped into Udall for not doing enough to stop the cuts. Anti-nuclear weapons activists like Greg Mello at the Los Alamos Study Group say Udall is implicitly supporting President Bush's pro-nuclear agenda, and that he's trying to have it both ways.
Mello and New Mexico Republicans have launched public attacks laying into Udall's maneuvering on the matter.
"Udall has no cop out in this matter," said Adam Feldman, director of the New Mexico Republican Party, in an unusual broadside last week. "...Make no mistake -- this is a failure on the part of Tom Udall, and it affects one of the largest employers in New Mexico and a very vital part of our economy and national security."
Mello sent out an "action alert" to his group's 2,100-person mailing list, urging them to lobby Udall to vote for the House Appropriations Bill.
"We're disappointed that Tom Udall is not supporting this markup which moves money out of nuclear weapons and into renewable energy," Mello said. "This is exactly the kind of thing ...he has said he stands for. And there is no other way to get renewable energy money in the (Department of Energy) budget than by taking it out of something. And that something is nuclear weapons."
Udall's spokeswoman declined to address these concerns, and referred a reporter to his statement.
Udall said his focus during the appropriations process is to ensure the safety and security of the lab, and surrounding communities, and to make sure "that the outstanding scientists at New Mexico's national labs have a fair opportunity to compete for the increased funding levels" in science.
Mello also questioned the impact of the lab on New Mexico's economy, and supports spending that money elsewhere.
Contact Andy Lenderman at 995-3827 or email@example.com.