MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations
Southwest Research and Information Center was founded in 1971 by Peter and Katherine Montague as an organization dedicated to scientific, legal, and journalistic expertise on environmental issues. SRIC’s early work focused on electric power generation and coal gasification, the uranium boom in the Western part of the state, and soon, the federal research on the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). Thirty-five years later, work on these issues (with new challenges) continue, while work on newer, more diverse issues grows.
Our staff structure has not changed much over the years: we continue to work together on projects. Each staff member has at least a basic (if not greater) understanding of each other’s work, something we discuss during staff meetings, and amongst ourselves when we have questions to which others may have answers. This “collective” knowledge makes it easier for us to talk to communities about the different environmental justice issues they are facing.
Another important aspect is the respect we have for communities and the need for the community to “own” the process for change. One result has been SRIC’s support and assistance in the creation of numerous community organizations. When an organization already exists, we try to work with it to meet the needs of their community. The knowledge developed within the community will still be there when we leave, benefiting future generations.
An example of some of the new challenges SRIC faces is learning about uranium in situ leach (ISL) mining (how it works, etc.) and about reclamation technologies (mine cleanup). Another is our movement into the health issues related to past uranium mining – something that we are focusing more of our time and effort. Communities in the Navajo Nation are developing methods to track various health and environmental impacts to their communities, which have been discussed in previous issues of Voices from the Earth. We focus on the Church Rock Chapter of the Navaio Nation and its efforts on page 3 of this issue. Reclamation work related to mining (of all kinds) became a focus of SRIC’s efforts as part of our long-term efforts regarding natural resources extraction. The work has expanded into other Western states, as well as other countries. Some of SRIC’s work about the Midnite Uranium Mine on the Spokane Indian Reservation is discussed on page 9.
Citizen participation in the WIPP permitting process continues, and we continue to insist that health and safety standards be met. The Department of Energy (DOE) submitted a permit modification to the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) on June 10, 2005. The size of this permit modification (1,100 pages) has led critics to call it the “Monster Mod” because provisions would weaken health and safety standards at WIPP. SRIC is working together with other organizations to prevent changes that would affect public health and the environment. More about the Monster Mod is on page 6.
Our work is not just limited to the technical. We worked with the Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy to lobby at the New Mexico State Legislature to pass the Solar Market Development Act which provides perhaps the best state tax credits in the nation for commercial and residential photovoltaic and solar thermal systems. Another key piece of legislation we supported was the Commitment to Healthy Communities Memorial, which urged NMED and the New Mexico Department of Health to work together on issues of environmental justice.
Underlying all of the work is our commitment in everything we do. This commitment has kept most of the staff working here at SRIC, through good times and bad, for more than 30 years. This commitment is reflected in the work we do, and our need to protect our world for future generations.
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“New Mexico is an energy colony and energy development and natural resources exploitation must remain the focus of much of SRIC’s work. Although we continue to study problems which we feel are timely and of national import, as a public interest research organization in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Southwest Research and Information Center continues to remain responsive to community groups with constantly changing needs, bringing our technical and journalistic expertise to bear on local problems.”
Katherine Montague, Editor
Volume 1, No. 14, April 1978