Gov. Bill Richardson is between the proverbial rock and a hard place. And if he doesn't find a way out soon, the economic future of Carlsbad may hang in the balance.
A few weeks ago, New Mexico's congressional delegation lined up in support of a proposed pit plutonium facility near Carlsbad. But our governor remained silent.
No matter which way he goes on the pit facility which would refurbish the triggers of nuclear weapons Richardson will offend part of his following: either the northern New Mexico liberals, who oppose this state from becoming further involved in nuclear weapons, or southern New Mexico conservatives, who like the governor's focus on economic development. Supporting the pit facility may also complicate Richardson's aspirations for higher office.
Itís apparent the governor wishes this issue would go away. But it won't because Carlsbad wants this pit facility badly.
Richardson has a checkered past when it comes to supporting Department of Energy projects in Carlsbad. While a Democratic congressman representing northern New Mexico in the 1980s and 1990s, Richardson fought against the development of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. But when he became secretary of energy under President Clinton, he was responsible for opening it. Some Carlsbad residents still hold his past opposition against him, but he does have many supporters at WIPP.
If the governor wants to boost the economy of southeastern New Mexico, the pit facility would help him achieve that goal. The facility would bring more than a thousand jobs to Carlsbad. If he has safety concerns, he should follow the example of Carlsbad leaders: demand high safety standards. When it comes to safety, WIPP is a success story.
If Richardson thinks itís politically dangerous for him to support the pit facility, he should look at the example of Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., who holds Richardson's former congressional seat. Udall came out in favor of the pit facility in Carlsbad. Although that took some courage considering the part of the state he represents, Udall will likely win the the next election easily.
The governor could help sway DOE to choose Carlsbad. As Nevada has shown, it's a lot easier to site a nuclear-related facility in an area where the leadership is united in its support. The governors of Georgia and South Carolina have issued statements of support for the facility being sited at Savannah River, S.C.
Carlsbad leaders should have a face-to-face meeting with the governor and inform him of the merits of the project. And then the governor should take a stand whether it be for or against.
We need leadership from our governor. At times, that means making tough choices.
Copyright © 2003 Carlsbad Current-Argus, a Gannett Co., Inc. newspaper.