Los Alamos High School Eco Club Members Interview Council Candidates On Local Environmental Issues

The LAHS Eco Club recently conducted an interview of the six candidates running for Los Alamos County Council about their environment policies, and shared their write-up of the interview with the Los Alamos Daily Post. Courtesy/LAHS Eco Club

By the Los Alamos High School Eco Club

The Los Alamos High School (LAHS) Eco Club has been working on a project to interview the six County Council candidates on environmental issues that are important to our community

The first question for the candidates (Denise Derkacs, David Reagor, James Rickman, Rodney Roberson, Aaron Walker and Sean Williams) was concerning their stance on the County recycling program and what they would do as a council member to promote a reduction of plastic waste.

This issue is especially important in light of the recent fire at the Friedman Recycling Center and the concerning statistic that only 9 percent of plastic is recycled.

Eco Club believes that measures to combat waste, such as a promotion of reusable containers and bags, a fee on plastic grocery bags, and support of the County Zero Waste program, should be taken.

All of the candidates had a similar response to our inquiry – “recycling is great” (Williams)! There was a general conclusion among the candidates that our recycling program is effective but could be taken further by “outreach and education” (Walker). Rickman said that in order to reduce plastic consumption we need to “bring people to behavioral change[s] on their own”. Roberson mentioned the “mind blowing number of people in Los Alamos County that currently do not recycle”, according to statistics from the Eco Station, and the possibility of beginning education on recycling and zero waste in “K-12 programs”.

We especially enjoyed hearing Rickman’s personal story about his two trips to Hawaii and his realization of the “incredible” amount of plastic that had ended up “in the oceans and … reefs” in the seven years between his two trips.

On the issue of a plastic bag fee, most candidates declared that they would support a fee, but also recognized the “opposition in the community on this” (Derkacs). The idea of educating people as a way to reduce our plastic usage came up again when discussing the bag fee, and Reagor pointed out that we should try to “convince people to use reusable bags” rather than “punishing people” with a fee. Derkacs added that before a bag fee could be implemented, the community would have to “weigh in on any plans to do [this]”, and we “have to wait until after the COVID-19 pandemic is over”.

Composting was a topic that came up frequently in the discussion of waste management. Specifically, candidates talked about their opinion on and logistics of the “food composting program that the county is initiating” and “yard compost bins and countertop food waste receptacles” (Derkacs) that the county plans to purchase. Both Rickman and Williams mentioned the drawbacks of this proposed composting system, including the dangers of “a bunch of food waste at the curb … during bear season”, the “water intensive” aspect of composting (Rickman), and the issue of the county having to “take the whole bin, empty it out, clean it, [and] return it” (Williams) for residential composting. However, the candidates ultimately agreed that the county supplying composting bins and “providing education for composting” (Williams) would be beneficial to the community. 

One of the biggest environmental issues is climate change, so the Eco Club asked our county council candidates what they would do to reduce our use of fossil fuels at a local level. We asked: How can you continue to move LA county towards carbon neutrality as a county council member? 

Derkacs made it clear that she has a “goal to be carbon neutral” by 2040 but also emphasized that “serious criteria has to be met” for the county to invest millions of dollars into the nuclear power plant. She also addressed that the “cost should be looked at and how the county can bear this cost” before we completely commit. But before committing to the next phase of the nuclear project she also encouraged evaluating the latest advances in wind and solar energy.

Walker explained his background and expertise in nuclear power after working in the navy for seven years on a nuclear powered aircraft carrier. He clearly stated that “I am a big proponent of nuclear power” and backed up this point by examining the flaws in other clean energy. He pointed out that wind and solar equipment is not recyclable. Specific to wind power he noted that lithium mining for the batteries is extremely damaging to the environment. As long as the targets were met, we should “aggressively pursue carbon free power” (Walker) through the nuclear power option because it is the only currently feasible way to get to carbon free power and maintain utility bills. 

Williams agreed that as long as the benchmarks were being met, we should continue on this route saying that he too was “pro-nuclear”, but he also pointed out that other clean energy options should continue. Wind and solar can make a lot of advancements in the future and he would like to see us invest in it to continue this progress and its expansion.

Roberson said, “I do support CFPP”, but that we should not just rely on one source, but we should pursue and investigate nuclear, wind, solar and any other energy forms that would push us towards carbon free energy. 

Rickman said that it was a good idea, but he wanted to wait and see. He emphasized that Los Alamos County does not need to be a test bed for new technology. Rickman also stated that we should not rule out any other sources of clean energy because “climate change is an existential threat.” 

Reagor said that we should stick to the current power grid because it is the “duty of people on council to take care to keep all of the bills at the minimum” and protect people of all different incomes in the county. He supported this stance by saying that as a county we are ultimately negligible in carbon emissions and that there is no climate crisis that needs solving because the food production is increasing per person.

This was an amazing opportunity for the high school Eco Club, and we appreciated being able to meet with the Los Alamos County Council candidates. We were inspired by their encouraging words to “keep fighting for what [we] believe in” (Walker) and to “[not] give up hope” (Derkacs) on efforts such as the bag fee. The candidates reminded us that “our generation will be the one to make a difference” (Roberson) and that we “have bright ideas” that some “older folks forget about” (Rickman)! Please go vote!