Here’s a flyer I obtained while in Colorado around the mid 2010’s. The nuclear weapons legacy exists in many regions of this country, along with opposition to it.
Here’s a flyer I obtained while in Colorado around the mid 2010’s. The nuclear weapons legacy exists in many regions of this country, along with opposition to it.
Another role that New Mexico plays as part of the military industrial complex is its part in the development of depleted uranium weapons. Their use was widely reported in many military interventions in the post-Cold War era, along with the grave health effects from exposure. New Mexico military research facilities are involved in the development of these weapons. But along with the development of these weapons was the rise of an activist, Damacio Lopez, who became one of their main opponents.
The film Uranium-238: The Pentagon’s Dirty Pool, gives an overview of these weapons:
Depleted uranium is a waste byproduct of nuclear fuel processing. The density of this metal, twice that of lead, made it valued for development of armor piercing ammunition because of its penetrating qualities. Weapons were developed starting in the 1970’s. They were used by the U.S and NATO countries in military interventions in Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo. Israel also reportedly uses these weapons in their occupation of Palestine.
Their use became widely known after the Gulf War of 1991 in Iraq, which left tens of thousands of casualties. The notorious Highway of Death was an area of tons of burnt tanks and other military vehicles, several casualties, their bodies burnt; many of them pierced with DU rounds. The DU weapons create much heat, and oxidize into fumes and ash, with inhalation being toxic. The effects on Iraqi soldiers and civilians has been heavily documented, with it being linked to several deformed newborns, and other severe health effects in children and adults. The range of symptoms known as Gulf War Syndrome is also though to be caused in part by exposure to depleted uranium.
Depleted uranium retains 60 percent of the radioactivity of pure uranium, and both the DOD and DOE say it is safe. But the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1996 classified DU as a weapon of mass destruction.
A story about the New Mexico connection to depleted uranium weapons appeared in Crosswinds Weekly in 2001. (1) According to the Military Toxics Project in a report issued in 2001, New Mexico tied with California as the state with the most sites DU is used, tested, or stored. Weapons are tested at White Sands Missile Range, Los Alamos National Laboratories, Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, and facilities with New Mexico Tech in Socorro. (2) The latter was one of the main facilities for testing this weapon in this state, and also the home town of Damacio Lopez, an activist who would campaign against these weapons.
Damacio Lopez was born in Socorro in 1943. At age 17 he joined the military, during the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. After he left the service in 1965 he went to college, and played golf in the student club. In 1969 he became a professional golfer, and played many tournaments. This was to be his career until in 1985 he was involved in an auto accident, and moved back to Socorro to recover from injuries.
In Socorro at his parents home, he noticed clouds of smoke from nearby explosions caused by weapons testing by the university nearby, less than 3 miles away, and how it was downwind from there. His father, who often was outside to tend his garden, later developed cancer and passed away. Looking for connections, he found high incidences of cancer and hydrocephalic births in the area of his town, that of a population of 8,000. He also found out about the nature of experiments at New Mexico Tech.
I have discussed New Mexico Tech before. Founded in 1893 as a mining school, it shifted its focus after World War II to weapons development. It regularly has around 1,500 students. It hosts the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center, the main facility on the campus. Of the 140 faculty employed, at least 100 work for the EMRTC division. Those faculty not with the division, as well as anyone else, is left out of the loop of its projects. New Mexico Tech began DU testing in 1985, and may have had preliminary testing since 1972. (3) (4)
Lopez began speaking out about depleted uranium in 1985 at the university Board of Regents meetings. The university was the main employer in the small town, and a powerful institution in its own right, so few people spoke out with him. But shortly after he began to speak out, boxes of documents were leaked to him by university employees that showed the contracts the university had for depleted uranium development. He brought this evidence to the university president, who insulted him racially by questioning his English skills. Lopez later campaigned for the state Environmental Protection Department to act, but in their response they said that the material was safe. Not satisfied, Lopez campaigned for mayor in 1986 to bring attention to his campaign, a result of which he was nearly run over by a car while on his bicycle.
New Mexico Tech admitted to ending testing of DU around 1992, but admits there is still “legacy waste” cleanup to do. The university later set up a foundation to filter its contracts through, to avoid this kind of scrutiny.
After this Damacio Lopez became a full time organizer against depleted uranium. After the Gulf War in 1991 he was part of a delegation of observers to Iraq that included former attorney general Ramsey Clark. He spoke at several conferences and community groups, including at the United Nations, as he became a sought after expert on depleted uranium. (5) In 1998 he founded IDUST, the International Depleted Uranium Study Team. He helped produce several media materials about depleted uranium, including some films. In 2013 he hosted the Uranium Film Festival. (6) The efforts of the International Campaign to Ban Uranium Weapons, which he was a part, led to the country of Costa Rica to ban the weapons. (7)
The development of depleted uranium weapons in New Mexico is just another part of the military and nuclear legacy of the state. One person described the state as a nuclear estate because of its history with the nuclear weapons complex. It also shows the continuing shadowy legacy of New Mexico Tech in Socorro in this complex. But with this story also shows people willing to resist it. People like Damacio Lopez, and hundreds of others like him who organize against militarism and for a state not dependent on the military-industrial complex and the development of weapons of war and destruction.
1. Wessely, Joe Gardner. “Depleted Uranium Weapons and the New Mexico Connection.” Crosswinds Weekly. April 5-12, 2001.
We think of World War II as ending in 1945 with the defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, but in actuality it was the beginning of many other things, most importantly the Cold War. The United States and The Soviet Union, the former allies in the war against Hitler, became ideological enemies again. And as for the Nazis, far from many we t without justice obtained from them, as the US used their technical and intellectual expertise for their “national security” interests against the Soviet Union. This project was called Operation Paperclip. It extracted Nazi regime scientists to the United States to work on military projects, specifically missile technology. These programs led to the development of NASA and the nuclear tipped ICBM program. For the New Mexico connection, many of these scientists ended up at White Sands.
In September 1945 the first group of seven German rocket scientists arrived in the United States at Fort Strong, one of whom was Wernher von Braun. They were label “War Department Special employees.” In 1946 Von Braun and at least 100 other German scientists arrived in Fort Bliss and a smaller group went to White Sands. The program would include up to 500 scientists in the first wave. Most of them would work on guided missiles and ballistic missile technology, and would be assigned to Fort Bliss, Texas; Huntsville, Alabama; and White Sands Proving Grounds, near Alamogordo, New Mexico. Many of the scientists worked on the V-2 rocket in Germany, and in the U.S. they would work on space rockets and ballistic missiles. Some of their work contributed to the Explorer and Saturn rockets. At White Sands the repatriated German scientists were generally well-treated, but were unable to leave the station without military escort.
White Sands was a vast desert of gypsum sand, lots of space for missile testing. Many of the V-2 rockets tested were crashed. The first crash happened on May 15, 1947. Another occurred two weeks later on May 29th. This one nearly caused an international incident. The rocket was supposed to fly north but instead turned south, arced over El Paso and landed in Juarez near a cemetery. The U.S. apologized and paid for damages. After the first crash a U.S. senator called for a halt to V-2 testing. The launches did resume after safety procedures were put in to prevent the rockets from endangering nearby civilian populations. But this has not always been a concern for the military.
The repatriation of Nazi scientists to White Sands to aid the U.S. military arms race. Just another part of New Mexico history of military colonization.
New Mexico Space Journal (No. 1, June 2001)
In 2017, with the era of Trump as US president, and increased military world tensions, there is growing fear of the possible use of nuclear weapons. One pariah state, North Korea, the DPRK, is attempting to acquire nuclear weapons as a deterrence. With these nuclear tensions in the air, it is helpful to remember the role New Mexico plays in the nuclear weapons complex. New Mexico was where the nuclear age was birthed, and remains an important part of the American nuclear weapons infrastructure. Two national laboratories, Los Alamos and Sandia, which operate as nuclear labs, are in the state, a legacy starting with the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb during World War II. Another is the role of Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, which among other things houses a storage facility hosting over 2,000 nuclear weapons, the largest in the world.
I have written previously on Kirtland Air Force Base and the military research that goes on because of it. Covering almost 53,000 acres and employing over 20,000 people, Kirtland became a key air force base because of its nuclear and military research facilities such as the Air Force Research Laboratory. Kirtland is also home to the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center. Another major part of the base is the Kirtland Underground Munitions Maintenance and Storage Complex (KUMMSC) that now stores about 2,000 nuclear warheads. Most are stored for decommissioning, to be transported to be dismantled at the nearby Pantex facility in Texas. But the ones still at Kirtland can still be activated again if ever ordered.
The official policy of the Air Force is to “neither confirm nor deny” the existence of nuclear weapons at Kirtland (Air Force letter on nuclear weapons at Kirtland). But it is an open secret in Albuquerque and elsewhere about the weapons, discovered based on publicly available data. The Albuquerque Journal, official newspaper of Albuquerque, reported recently on the storage complex, which is operated by the 898th Munitions Squadron, which reports to Air Force Global Strike Command. (1) Watchdog groups and other media also confirm this. (2)
For those of us who are living in this city with the knowledge that there are thousands of weapons of mass destruction here, it is helpful to know the history of how this city is close to the site of the largest nuclear arsenal in the world, and how it is necessary to work to a transition away from this type of living off of war.
Albuquerque, City of Secrets
The Manhattan Project involved many different sites in the state, from Los Alamos to the Trinity Site in Alamogordo. But lesser known is the place in between, Albuquerque, which played a major role because of its housing of Kirtland Air Force Base. Founded in 1941 as an Army air field, it became a key transportation facility in the Manhattan Project, as Los Alamos was just two hours away. The atomic bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki were developed in Los Alamos and transported from Kirtland to ships waiting in San Francisco. Kirtland also housed what would become Sandia National Laboratories, a key research facility for science and technology but also a key designer of nuclear and other advanced weapons. Starting as a branch of Los Alamos national labs, Sandia became independent in 1949, and after World War II was used for engineering that could not be done at Los Alamos. Sandia became one of three nuclear weapons laboratories in the country, and also expanded to several other areas of research, military and civilian, but ultimately with a concentration on nuclear and weapons research . The post-war growth of Kirtland also drove the growth of Albuquerque where it was based.
Of all the military occupation that occurs in New Mexico, Albuquerque has been greatly shaped by it. Many other researchers have documented the military influence of the city. In the book Trinity’s Children, where they also called Albuquerque the City of Secrets, it described Albuquerque as:
“…a giant shallow bowl, fenced in by mountains to the east and a high mesa to the west.
…It is a city that is driven by defense dollars, one where the military, and military weapons provide more employment in the city than any other industry. It is a city that, like so many of us, grew up with the Bomb.” (3)
The growth of Albuquerque in the post war era was linked to the growth of the base and the labs. As housing of lab employees was moved off base to make room for more air force troops, the demand for housing created a housing boom (which also led to the sprawl that affects it up to today, along with the class stratification here). (4) It also shaped its culture. Working Women magazine in 1997 said that the dependence of employment from Sandia Labs, Kirtland, and the University of New Mexico made Albuquerque suited for the “easy, bureaucratic life.” (5)
For the constant reminder of the military presence here, Kirtland shares a runway with Albuquerque International Airport, one of the only civilian airports to do so. These runways are also where those nuclear weapons are transported to and from.
During the Manhattan Project, Kirtland built a storage complex for atomic bombs developed in Los Alamos. The storage facility was known as the Manzano Weapons Storage Area, also known as Manzano Base. Located near the Four Hills neighborhood in Albuquerque, it was one of six original National Stockpile Sites (NSS). Nuclear weapons were stored in deep tunnels drilled into the Manzano Mountains for that purpose. After the Pantex plant was built in Texas to manufacture nuclear weapons, Kirtland remained a transport hub for these weapons, for storage and distribution to other U.S. military bases around the world.
An interview with a Sandia Labs veteran said that the mountain bunker was assembled in the 1940’s and 1950’s when Sandia was the only warhead assembly site in the country. The cover story was that the construction was for the digging of a water supply for Sandia, and the work was titled “Project Water Supply.” Another report said that Manzano Base had become “the largest priority weapons storage area in the free world.” (6) Manzano Base kept the nuclear arsenal stockpiled throughout the Cold War.
With the end of the Cold War, and the era of disarmament that started shortly before it, the nuclear weapons storage project in Kirtland became ever more important. Starting with disarmament treaties in the 1980’s and up to the arms control initiatives of President George H.W. Bush, short-range nuclear weapons were being withdrew from bases in Europe and returned to the mainland U.S. These nuclear warheads were being decommissioned, and both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. (later just Russia), reduced the number of nuclear weapons held. The total number of warheads held by the U.S. went from a high of 24,000 in the 1980’s to 12,500 in 1997. Ironically this decommissioning of nuclear weapons increased the role of the Kirtland base as a nuclear storage area.
In a 1985 book “Nuclear Battlefields” it estimated that Kirtland stored up to 400 nuclear weapons. Reports in 1992 based on public data estimated 2,092 warheads stored in the Manzano mountains on the base. (7) A year before, they started construction of a new $43 million storage facility, and Manzano Base was replaced by the Kirtland Underground Munitions Storage Complex (KUMSC). It covered 56 acres and was built for its changing mission. Back in 1992, the U.S. had 34 nuclear stockpile sites, 16 of them overseas. That year Kirtland was the second largest of those facilities, surpassed by one in Charleston, SC, storing 2,250 warheads. But the nearby Pantex plant in Texas became a major dismantlement site, dismantling 2,000 warheads per year, or an average of seven per day. Since Kirtland was so close and already had a storage site, it became more important in those roles and expanded them.
There were several public sources that pointed to the new facility. A 1995 report from the Russian Defense Ministry said the U.S. had plans to store 150 nuclear bombs at the facility. A 1996 FOIA request by the Albuquerque Journal stated that the underground facility “was constructed for the storage of U.S. nuclear weapons.” A DOE report listed Kirtland as a possible storage site for weapons going to Pantex. By 1997 other storage sites reduced their number of warheads, and even were shut down themselves, as by that year there were 26 locations in 15 states and seven foreign countries. In 1997 Kirtland became the top storage area in the country for nuclear weapons, storing 2,850 warheads. (8) It has remained the top storage area ever since.
The War on Terror era
After the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001, Kirtland as a whole became more restricted for civilians. In 2002 Senator Bingaman pushed for $11 million in funding for the KUMMSC, ON TOP OF $89 million for other projects at Kirtland. Right after the start of the Iraq War in 2003, the storage complex got a $10 million upgrade in security. This brought new fencing, perimeter lighting, upgraded power systems and a reinforced concrete crust. The improvements were decided upon following the 9/11 attacks, with the report issued specifically mentioning the need to deter a terrorist attack, and the need of a concrete barrier to prevent a hijacked airliner from crashing through it. This would not detonate any nuclear weapons but could create a dirty bomb scenario, another big fear in that time. But it was emphasized that the Kirtland complex, one of the government’s two nuclear storage depots, had the best security possible.(9)
In the lead up to the Iraq War Kirtland and its nuclear storage became the site of anti-war and anti-nuclear demonstrations from local activists. After a story in the Albuquerque Journal about exercises around dirty bomb scenarios by federal management teams (10), William Clark of the New Mexico Solidarity Network (a precursor to Stop the War Machine) wrote a letter to the editor three days later about the danger from a terrorist attack from the Kirtland weapons depot. The nuclear weapons depot became a focus of a campaign by the Stop the War Machine activist group (press release). They used public protests to bring attention to the nuclear weapons in Kirtland, using many non-violent means to do that (petition). They were able to have it addressed by the Albuquerque City Council, where in 2004 one councilor publicly called for the Air Force to address the security concerns. (11)
The argument for the Iraq War was that Saddam Hussein, the ruler of Iraq, possessed weapons of mass destruction. Another big buzzword in those days. Yet here we were in Albuquerque with one of the largest arsenals of weapons of mass destruction. They said that if New Mexico became an independent nation while keeping Kirtland intact, it would be the third largest nuclear power in the world. What international bodies are calling for inspections of this facility?
In 2017 the Kirtland nuclear depot is still operating here. The number of nuclear weapons has been reduced since then, but as mentioned the ones existing can be re commissioned. This facility is just another example of the military presence in New Mexico as a whole. There are shadows of it in every part of the state. Others have pointed out how it exists in a state that is number one in so many negative social indicators, poverty a major one. So many resources going into war instead of human needs that are desperately needed in this state. Putting light onto shadows is the first way of dealing with it, and we must keep bringing these to light.
1. Reed Jr., Ollie. “KAFB home to massive nuclear storage complex.” Albuquerque Journal. April 9, 2016. https://www.abqjournal.com/756336/kafb-home-to-massive-nuclear-storage-complex.html
2. https://nukewatch.org/Kirtland.html; Helms, Harry. Top Secret Tourism. Feral House. 2007 Los Angeles. (p. 182)
3. Bartimus, Tad and Scott McCartney. Trinity’s Children: Living Along America’s Nuclear Highway. Albuquerque, NM. UNM Press. 1991. (Chapter 3: City of Secrets.)
4. Domrzalski, Dennis. “Big military science project shaped modern New Mexico.” New Mexico Business Weekly. February 3, 2012. https://www.bizjournals.com/albuquerque/print-edition/2012/02/03/big-military-science-project-shaped.html (referenced in El Lobo Rojo)
5. ”Silicon Mesa.” Working Woman. March 1997. Pg. 9-10.
6. Fleck, John. “Nukes From Europe Fill Kirtland, Analysts Say.” Albuquerque Journal. July 22, 1992. p. A1, A8;
Fleck, John. “Bombs Away.” Albuquerque Journal. August 3, 1992. Pp. A1, A6.
7. Spohn, Lawrence. “New Arsenal is Home to Awesome Nukes.” Albuquerque Tribune. July 21, 1992.
This is from public research done by William Arkin, then of Greenpeace, and Stan Norris of the National Resources Defense Council. They did an analysis of unclassified data to determine that Albuquerque was a destination for decommissioned warheads. Said Norris: “Those warheads have to be going somewhere and everything points to Albuquerque.” – Spohn, Lawrence. “Kirtland Base At Heart Of Disarmament.” Albuquerque Tribune. July 23, 1992.
8. “September/October 1997 Nuclear Notebook: Where the Bombs Are, 1997.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. http://www.thebulletin.org/issues/nukenotes/soo997nukenote.html (accessed 08/31/2003). Also, there were changes in recent reports on what qualified as a nuclear weapon. The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty did not count actual warheads but just the means to launch them. The U.S. and Russia preserve many warheads after the delivery devices are destroyed. Some can be reactivated. – Roberts, Chris. “NM Tops in Nuke Cache.” Albuquerque Journal. August 27, 1997. p. A1, A10.
9. Navrot, Miguel. “Tighter Nuclear Security Sought.” Albuquerque Journal. March 29, 2002. p. A1.; Navrot, Miguel. Kirtland to Shore up Nuke Security. Albuquerque Journal. June 18, 2003. pp. A1-A2
10. Fleck, John. “Feds Plan Dirty Bomb Exercise.” Albuquerque Journal. July 20, 2002.
11.Ludwick, Jim. “Councilor Wants Better Nuke Plan.” Albuquerque Journal. September 21, 2004.
Albuquerque has long had a nuclear legacy. One part of it was the time when a hydrogen bomb was accidentally dropped in Albuquerque. It is no surprise since Kirtland Air Force Base hosted the world’s first assembly plant for the hydrogen bomb. Another nuclear legacy of New Mexico.
On May 22, 1957, a B-36 bomber was flying from Biggs Air Force Base in Texas to Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, carrying a Mark 17 hydrogen bomb. The plane flew into turbulent air at 1,700 feet as it was. To steady himself, the navigator grabbed a lever on the plane, the lever that released the twenty-one ton bomb. It crashed through its bay doors and landed four and a half miles south of the control tower. The plane, losing twenty-one tons, lurched over a thousand feet in the air. The shocked pilots announced to the control tower that they dropped a nuclear bomb.
The drop caused conventional explosives in the bomb to detonate on impact in an uninhabited area. The weapon parts were not in place so there was, thankfully, no nuclear explosion. It created a crater 12 feet deep and 25 feet wide and killed a cow, but no human fatalities. There was minor radioactive contamination.
The Mark 17 was the first thermonuclear weapon to be carried aboard a plane. It was 24.5 feet long and 5 feet in diameter. It had an estimated yield of 10 megatons, 600 times that of the Hiroshima bomb. It was then the most powerful weapon in the U.S. arsenal.
This story was not known until the Albuquerque Journal did a story on it in 1986 after a Freedom of Information Act request. The old military documents it received mentioned this drop. Some of the details still remain classified, but with the documents and interviews with some of the participants, it recounted both the horror and humor of this moment.
To just think that in my hometown, a hometown for now millions of people, a thermonuclear bomb was literally dropped on it. Kirtland served as the manufacturing site for the first hydrogen weapons, until it was replaced by the Pantex nuclear weapons manufacturing plant in nearby Texas. New Mexico itself has a long military and nuclear legacy, and it still lingers in it. The state is the site of the development of the first nuclear weapon, the first test of this new weapon, and the subsequent development of them in the two nuclear laboratories, Los Alamos and Sandia. It also has its aftereffects. The contamination of Navajo lands and water from uranium mining. Even in Albuquerque there is slight plutonium contamination of the soil from these early nuclear development projects from Kirtland. One major place it still hold this legacy is the storage at Kirtland of thousands of nuclear warheads, which I will explore further.
Bartimus, Tad and Scott McCartney. Trinity’s Children: Living Along America’s Nuclear Highway. Albuquerque, NM. UNM Press. 1991. (Chapter 3: City of Secrets.)
Helms, Harry. “Top Secret Tourism.” 2007. Feral House. Los Angeles. (p. 182).
Full disclosure here, I have moved back to Albuquerque, so have been covering the news here a bit more, even though I try to stay away. One thing that is happening now is another presidential search at UNM. It seems the last president, Robert Frank, which I have written about before, did not work out for the Regents, and UNM cannot seem to hold on to its CEO’s. Here I will examine this and look at the prospects for the next presidential search.
I wrote before about the presidential search process, and in particular the one that chose Robert Frank. I predicted he would win for being not a token minority and for his antagonistic stance against faculty as his previous university. This prediction came real, as Frank was nominated for the regents.
By all accounts before it seems that Frank and the Regents were getting along fine at UNM. In 2013 the regents paid Frank a bonus with his $360,000-plus salary, due to increased graduation and retention rates. But in early September 2016 Frank announced that he would not renew his contract and would end his term in May 2017, when his contract ended. But the Regents accepted his resignation early, and he ended his term in December 2016. One of his provosts, Chaouki Abdullah, became interim president.
Before this, Frank had his retirement planned out. The Regents offered him a $350,000 job at the Health Sciences Center in a new position specifically created for him. This was a time of large state budget cuts, but they were willing to throw money at an administrator. It can also be related to the recent action that put the Health Sciences Center more under direct control of the Regents.
There was other signs of tension when in November 11, 2016 an internal audit was done against Frank. It was about Frank over-reimbursing the university for expenses, $5,500 of $227,000 spent. There were other reports around this time of missing money at UNM, and as Frank paid the money back, it was a tempest in the teapot in the bigger scheme of things.
There was another outside review by attorney Alice Kilborn that found that Frank created a hostile work environment. It found that Frank was “impatient, bitingly sarcastic, condescending, and rude to members of his office staff and to other individuals within the university.” The 10-page report also said Frank was short-tempered and bad mannered. The methodology was put into question, as they talked to eight faculty and staff, out of 1,250 faculty and 3,000 staff. But the Regents before this also hired Frank a job coach to help improve his communications skills. The local media hinted at these conflicts with Frank and the Regents as a reason for his early dismissal. There was also conflicts with Gov. Susana Martinez and her staff hinted at.
The career of Robert Frank, as other recent presidents at UNM, show the real power in the university resides within the regents, who have absolute control on the university and has the president serve at its whim. The president before Frank, Louis Caldera, was also fired early after reported conflicts with the Regents.But this is a conflict within the ruling elites. Frank does not have the concerns of the common people at heart. In fact, the Journal in an editorial praising Frank for his accomplishments listed one of them as his increase in public-private tech transfer at UNM and support for entrepreneurship, both of which were “essential for UNM to become a more competitive university.” In other words, serving business interests.
In all cases, the Regents spent huge sums of money to conduct the search and to hire the president. I have talked about the importance to the university president before, and that many people are unaware that it is written in law that the Regents have sole authority to choose the president. Yet they will put on this facade that the Presidential Search is an open process where the community has a say in choosing the president. What will be interesting as this process goes forward is showing how it exposes the power over the corporate university.
Facebook recently announced that they will build a new data center in Los Lunas, New Mexico, just outside of Albuquerque. They beat out West Jordan, Utah as a competitor by offering better incentives. Nearly every power broker in New Mexico is praising the move, but it reveals another example of neoliberal economics in a poor state.
The new Facebook center will be located 1/2 mile west of I-25, south of Route 6 in Los Lunas. This new center claims it will be the most energy efficient data center in the world, running on 100 percent renewable energy, by services to be built by state utility company PNM. This one is nice, as data centers, farms for servers and the like, use vast amounts of electricity. As the modern world depends more in information technology and the internet, it helps to know what the real costs are in terms of electricity and the environmental costs from it.
The company and state politicians state it will bring hundreds of construction jobs, dozens of long term operations jobs, and hundreds of millions of dollars of new investment. The mayor of Los Lunas said more precisely it would bring up to 300 temporary construction jobs and at least 50 long term operations jobs. Construction was scheduled to begin October 2016 and the center will be operational in 2018. The big story was the generous incentives given by both competing sites, and ultimately by Los Lunas.
Los Lunas passed an IRB, or Industrial Revenue Bond, measure of up to $30 billion. Another $10 million was from a Local Economic Development Act (LEDA) measure, and up to $3 million in Job Training Incentive Program funding. They also got their property taxes waived for the next 30 years in exchange for annual payments of between $50,000 and $100,000 a year. Facebook would also get 75 percent reimbursement of the gross tax revenues they receive, capped at $1.6 million. No one knows exactly if this will pay off, but it is typical in the age of neoliberalism, where the public pays for private gain.
West Jordon, Utah also offered Facebook big tax incentives to locate their, but it was ultimately rejected. They offered a $250 million, 20 year tax incentive, but the taxing entities rejected it, and local officials protested that it was too generous.
The governor of New Mexico, Susana Martinez, began courting Facebook back in August 2015. In the neoliberal economy, the state competes with others to bring in industry.
Another giveaway was the water. West Jordon debated the request for 5 million gallons of water per day required by Facebook to be held in reserve for the then 230 acre, 3.3 million square foot project. The water is used for the evaporative coolers to keep the servers from overheating. The LEDA funds in New Mexico are allocated to purchase water rights. Los Lunas also approved an agreement that would allow Facebook to have access of up to 4.5 million gallons a day. Both Utah and New Mexico have desert climates, with water a scarce resource, and in their bid to attract industry they will give away this resource for them.
Another argument they gave is that the project would help local contractors. But the main contractor is Fortis Construction, based in Portland, Oregon.
Another important aspect of this deal is the amount of secrecy involved. As the Albuquerque Journal reported, “At Facebook’s request, only certain public officials were authorized to speak about any aspect of the project, and dozens of government employees signed nondisclosure agreements. One Utah media outlet delayed breaking the Facebook story for months so as not to jeopardize the state’s chances of securing the data center.” Both projects went under shell companies and code names. In Los Lunas the IRB was first approved for a parent company Greater Kudu LLC, the name in its request. It was named Project Antelope, which a Greater Kudu is. Utah went under Project Discus, and conversations with Facebook and state officials were kept private under their request. These deals are more common, but they don’t want them to come under the light.
Deseret News quoted Dave Swenson, an economist at Iowa State University, saying “the only winner here is Facebook.”
“Two cities were pitted one against each other, offering massive subsidies for an extraordinarily profitable company,” Swenson said. “Honestly, West Jordan dodged a bullet, and the state of Utah dodged a bullet. They would have committed to spending an extraordinary amount of money for a negligible increase of productivity in their regional economy.”
New Mexico is a poor state, often ranking near the bottom, if not at the bottom, in poverty. The economy is dependent on government jobs and extractive industries, the latter taking a hit lately with the decline of oil and gas jobs. Thus it is susceptible to giving away these public subsidies for private investment. Many compared the deal to the one with Intel, which the state and Rio Rancho gave away billions in tax breaks for the company to locate in the growing suburb. Now it may reduce its operations if not close altogether due to decreased demand for their computer chips as mobile devices become the preferred computer. I have written about other IRB’s given to Phillips and Eclipse, which did not perform as expected. A website gives data on nearly $4 billion in subsidies to private industry in New Mexico. Public subsidy for private gain.
The example of Facebook of how economies of neoliberal capitalism work would be an argument for a more socialist economy. Where the resources would be owned by the people, where communities would have say in what resources are given to industry, and companies could not just up and leave a community, devastating it. But as long as capitalism plays out, the economy will be at the mercy of these concentrated entities of corporations. After all, in a theoretical capitalist economy, companies would make it on their own without any assistance. But that is not the way it works, and economics should be more democratic to benefit the many over the few.
Baca, Marie C. “It’s official: Facebook breaks ground in New Mexico next month.” Albuquerque Journal. September 15, 2016. https://www.abqjournal.com/844876/facebook-picks-los-lunas-for-its-data-center.html
McKeller, Kate. “West Jordan falls to New Mexico’s sweetheart deal for Facebook data center.” Deseret News. September 14, 2016. http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865662425/Facebook-chooses-New-Mexico-over-West-Jordan-for-data-center.html
“Facebook chooses New Mexico over Utah for its newest data center.” https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/sep/14/facebook-data-center-new-mexico-utah?cmp=oth_b-aplnews_d-1
Reichbach, Matthew. “Facebook announces data center coming to New Mexico.” NM Political Report. September 14, 2016. http://nmpoliticalreport.com/93449/facebook-announces-data-center-coming-to-new-mexico/