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

New Mexico: Land of Enchantment... Or Waste?

New Mexico is home to about two million people from diverse cultures, backgrounds, and economic conditions, and is a land of natural beauty and resources. All too often, the beauty is sacrificed to allow for resource extraction – or waste disposal. This issue of Voices from the Earth provides some of the current examples of New Mexicans struggling to maintain the cultures, land, and communities in the face of various “development” or waste dumping projects. Some of the projects are new threats, some of them are continuing activities, and some are additional attempts that have previously been defeated by the communities. Corporations and government agencies are at odds with the communities, creating additional conflicts and making the community protection efforts more difficult, time-consuming and expensive.

A municipal solid waste landfill near Wagon Mound in northeastern New Mexico is once again asking for a permit to handle more dangerous “Special Wastes.” Twice in the past, the community has opposed such a permit, and it was denied. Nonetheless, the operators are again asking for a permit that would allow such wastes to come from as far away as California and Florida. Once again, dozens of community people and local government officials voiced their opposition at the public hearing in August and pointed out significant technical problems with the site and the request for such wastes.

The European companies operating as Louisiana Energy Services (LES) that want to build a uranium enrichment plant near Eunice in southeastern, New Mexico received their license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and have begun construction. Local residents who oppose the plant have taken their challenge to the license to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in Washington, DC, which heard oral arguments from the lawyers for the Nuclear Information and Resource Service and Public Citizen, the NRC, and LES on September 8. Read about the issues and some of the actual questions and answers given on pages 4 and 5.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), the world’s first nuclear waste repository in southeastern New Mexico, received a drum from the Idaho National Laboratory with prohibited waste in June. It was three weeks later before the error was discovered. The question then was whether to remove the drum and send it back to Idaho or leave it underground. Citizens argued that the drum should be removed, and the NMED ordered its removal. Various new procedures have been implemented in an attempt to prevent a recurrence. The drum was shipped back to Idaho in August.

Some radioactive waste from nuclear weapons production and nuclear power plants has no disposal site. After years of inaction, the Department of Energy (DOE) is looking at several nuclear weapons sites around the country, including Los Alamos and WIPP in New Mexico. Many people in New Mexico, as well as in other states, opposed their sites being used for disposal of wastes from other places in hearings in August and September. Instead, many people asked that a different approach be used – Hardened On-Site Storage – in which waste already at a site would be placed in more robust storage for many years, rather than transporting it or dumping it in other states.

About fifty percent of all the uranium mined in the U.S. has come from New Mexico, but mining occurs in other states. Citizens from Texas who have been negatively affected by uranium mining by Uranium Resources Inc (URI) in Kleberg County, Texas, visited Navajo communities in northwestern New Mexico in August to share their experiences and urge New Mexicans to oppose URI’s subsidiary’s plans for new uranium mines. Sharing of experiences and information is an important way that communities can support each other and become more effective in their work.

The Desert Rock coal-fired power plant is proposed on the Navajo Reservation in northwestern New Mexico by international companies, with the support of the Navajo Nation Council, but with substantial opposition by some Navajo communities and others. Hundreds of people participated in public hearings in June to oppose the plant and describe the cultural, environmental, and health effects that the plant would create.

The communities involved need much support. The articles discuss the issues and the struggles, as well as how you can be involved and provide support.



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