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From left, former State Rep. and Mayor’s Nuclear Task Force Chair John Heaton, Eddy County Commissioner Susan Crockett, and Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway pose prior to a meeting with White House officials. (Courtesy Photo)

From left, former State Rep. and Mayor’s Nuclear Task Force Chair John Heaton, Eddy County Commissioner Susan Crockett, and Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway pose prior to a meeting with White House officials. (Courtesy Photo)

Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway, Eddy County Commissioner Susan Crockett, and former State Rep. John Heaton praised what they called a highly productive meeting with key White House officials Friday in Washington D.C.

The Carlsbad/Eddy County delegation met with Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Jerry Abramson, as well as other members of his staff, during an official visit to the nation’s capitol.

“The common thread that ran through what we discussed is the importance of support key to the health of rural communities,” said Janway. “We sincerely appreciated the opportunity to meet with Mr. Abramson and other White House officials to discuss these critical subjects.”

Key topics addressed in the meeting included:

• A status update on the Department of Energy’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) and the facility’s plans to reopen in December.

• A discussion of the Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program, specifically in relation to the Bureau of Land Management and the need to permanently fund the program.

Eddy County is the state’s largest recipient of PILT, a program constantly under attack in Congress. The delegation stressed the need to permanently fund the program and the important role PILT money plays i  maintaining local infrastructure.

• A discussion emphasizing the importance of the Essential Air Service (EAS) program to rural areas such as Carlsbad and Eddy County.

“With Essential Air Service, those contracts are always under duress, and it is so important for us as a community, as well as for core industries, to have consistent access to air travel,” Heaton said.

• An update on the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance’s intent to locate an interim storage facility for spent fuel in Southeast New Mexico.

During the interim storage discussion, the officials stressed the fact that a consolidated facility for spent nuclear fuel would greatly reduce federal expenses. Heaton is the chair of the Carlsbad Mayor’s Nuclear Task Force and co-chair of the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance.

The Carlsbad and Eddy County representatives also updated the White House on economic issues related to the oil and gas industry, potash, and tourism. Members of the White House staff asked if President Barack Obama’s visit to Carlsbad Caverns National Park had an impact on tourism, Crockett said.

“We asked how they picked the Caverns, and apparently it was because one of the president’s daughters saw Al Roker there on television and wanted to go,” she said.

The meeting was part of a whirlwind trip through Washington D.C. by the three delegates, who also met with New Mexico congressmen and key members of the House and Senate appropriations committees.