Denise Gonzales

 

You don’t often hear of a federal government agency providing money to communities to help them make decisions on how the agencies operate, but in 2010 that is exactly what the Department of Energy (DOE) did. The DOE’s Office of Environmental Management has provided the New Mexico Community Foundation $1.5 million over three years to provide grants to communities across the nation who have federal facilities as neighbors.

The NMCF’s Community Involvement Fund was set up to give nonprofit organizations around nuclear facilities resources to inform and involve the public regarding operations and clean-up activities at these sites. NMCF has always firmly believed that informed public input can improve clean-up decisions by ensuring that local conditions and community values are understood and incorporated into clean-up strategies.

For the DOE, the idea of using a community foundation was to ensure that the funds were given in an objective unbiased way. The fund’s advisors consist of a team of national committee members, all of whom have a specialty in dealing with federal facilities, either as a regulators, activists, past employees of a facility, nonprofit employees or even scientists who have studied the effects of the contaminants that exist at the facilities.

During three years of grant making, the funds have gone to support communities like the Savannah River Site, Hanford, the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, the Santa Susana Field Laboratory and all three of New Mexico’s nuclear facilities: the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratory.

In 2013, organizations that focused on training the “next generation of informed citizens” were given funding priority. Communities across the nation are facing having an aging population of citizens who traditionally have been involved in activism and know the history and legacy of these sites. The criteria for this year’s grants challenged nonprofits to come up with unique ways to involve a younger generation in the issues surrounding clean-up of these sites and to inform them of the potential risks of ongoing operations. Amigos Bravos, focusing on Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Citizen Action, focusing on Sandia National Laboratory, were both awarded a grant to get youth and college-age stakeholders involved.

Both organizations will also be focusing on engaging outreach to disenfranchised communities. Citizen Action has made it a priority to provide materials in Spanish to neighborhoods in Albuquerque who might otherwise not hear about meetings and provide information in Spanish to those who wish to learn about the clean-up efforts and potential risks from historical and ongoing operations at Sandia National Laboratory.

 

Denise Gonzales is special projects manager at the NMCF.

 

 

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