Crashing Through the Caja

Indigenous and wildlife groups continue fight against proposed electrical transmission line for Los Alamos National Lab

Indigenous and wildlife groups are among those who hope the federal government’s new round of public comment will convince officials to change the course of a proposed electrical transmission line to serve Los Alamos National Laboratory that would cross the Caja del Rio Plateau.

The 14-mile, 115-kilovolt power line and related infrastructure upgrades would provide LANL with higher capacity electrical power to supplement two existing lines expected to reach their capacity limits by the end of 2027. The proposed path would start at the Norton Substation and cross 2.5 miles on Bureau of Land Management land, then span 8.6 miles on National Forest land and finally pass White Rock Canyon onto Department of Energy and National Nuclear Security Administration property at LANL for the final 3 miles.

Joseph “Brophy” Toledo, a traditional leader from Jemez Pueblo who sits on the Supreme Council and the Caja del Rio Coalition, tells SFR the groups he represents “are very concerned” with the location and “what it is all about from a Native perspective.”

The power line would disrupt the “beauty of the land,” he says, and would sever what he calls “ceremonial power points” and connections to sacred water with new equipment and loud static noise, “so that’s where we’re coming from in this pueblo, and that’s where we stand.”

Toledo says, for now, opponents need to raise awareness.

“Those guys got the money, man, and look who you’re fighting against,” he says. “You’re fighting against all these poor pueblo Indians that can’t afford all these real strong legal advisors.”

The Pueblo of Tesuque, however, is considering its own legal action, Tesuque Legal Counsel Jim James tells SFR, noting the National Historic Preservation Act and numerous federal executive orders protect culturally sensitive and archaeologically significant areas like the Caja del Rio.

“We want to make sure that the National Nuclear Security Agency and the other participating agencies like BLM and the Forest Service are actually following the policies. What we’re seeing is that those agencies have, in our opinion, minimally complied with those provisions,” James says. “We believe that there should be alternatives, and we don’t think that the NNSA or the labs, or the Forest Service or BLM or the federal government, generally have really comprehensively thoroughly pursued those alternatives.”

Opponents of the project say the agencies’ timeline for the first public comment period, which lasted from Dec. 19, 2023 to Jan. 17, presented a roadblock because it fell between major holidays and ceremonial practices.

New Mexico’s Congressional delegation made the same argument. In a letter to NNSA Administrator Jill Hruby dated Dec. 20, US Sen. Ben Ray Luján and Martin Heinrich, along with US Reps. Teresa Leger Fernández and Melanie Stansbury, all Democrats, noted its timeline “provides insufficient opportunity for NNSA to gather feedback on its proposal and consult with Pueblos who have cultural and spiritual ties to the Caja del Rio.”

The agencies subsequently opened a second comment period, which started Jan. 22 and will close Feb. 20, noting on the formal project website they determined an additional opportunity was warranted “based on multiple factors, including community concerns recently raised about the timing of the current comment period.”

A meeting ostensibly aimed at outreach on Jan. 11 at the Santa Fe Community College was also unsatisfactory, James says, and “something that the government could check off the box…It was three minutes for anybody who wanted to speak, and believe me, there were numerous people that didn’t get an opportunity to speak because of the distance, because of the timing, because of the weather. Three minutes is really hard to say what you really want to say for a project this important and this impactful to your community, to your culture, to your future, and I just don’t think it was done in the spirit of the law, or in the spirit of the policies of the government.”

New Mexico Wildlife Federation Executive Director Garrett VeneKlasen tells SFR the proposal poses a threat to wildlife, too. The transmission line compares to “putting a wall up,” he says, noting “roads and power lines are notorious for fragmenting wildlife corridors and wildlife habitat.”

VeneKlasen says the Caja del Rio is already under duress from unregulated ATVs and dumping. Construction of the power line “just degrades that very special place, and the problem is you put the power line in, and then you put a whole new road system in,” he says. “And when you put a whole new road system and then the folks on the ATVs go in there, and they use the existing roads to create illegal side roads. And then all of a sudden you don’t have any wildlife.”

A LANL representative tells SFR the agencies are listening to feedback, but there’s no plan to halt the project.

“Among our goals with the Electrical Power Capacity Upgrade project is to keep its impact on the landscape and the surrounding communities to an absolute minimum,” lab spokesman Steven Horak writes in an email. “Protecting existing cultural resources, wildlife habitats and the scenic quality of the Caja del Rio Plateau is of paramount importance to the laboratory, the federal government and the communities we work with every day to carry out our mission.”

Toledo clarifies he’s not opposing what LANL does, “just stay away from our sacred sites…seek an alternate route.”

“Help me help you just understand my world. Just please understand my sacredness. Just understand my belongings on why,” he says. “And that’s all we want.”

EarthKeepers 360 will host an webinar entitled “We Are Our Children’s Future: Living the Radical Alternative of Peace, Justice, & Environmentalism in Times of Crisis” at 4 pm, Monday Feb. 5, where panelists will discuss the proposed LANL line. Register at:

Submit comments about the project via email at or mail it to: NNSA Los Alamos Field Office. Attention: EPCU Project NEPA. 3747 West Jemez Road. Los Alamos, NM 87544.

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