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County’s support for uranium task force only goes so far

By August 8, 2019January 20th, 2023Climate & Energy, Uranium Mining & Waste
Gallup Independent Editorial Board

Once again, the Conservation Voters of New Mexico Education Fund came before the McKinley County Board of Commissioners to implore the board to support its efforts to create a Blue Ribbon Uranium Task Force in McKinley County.

For years, the CVNMEF has requested support from the commission and, while the commission has pledged their support of the creation of the task force, it ends there. It seems there has always been a great misunderstanding when it comes to what exactly the board pledged to do.

Commissioners and County Manager Anthony Dimas have always said that the task force has their support, however, serving on the task force is something they won’t do.

Meanwhile, advocates of CVNMEF and supporters request that the commission do more and claim that the commission had promised to serve on the task force.

This back and forth has carried on for years and we’d like to see it resolved.

During the July 30 meeting, Commissioner Billy Moore said while he supports the task force’s efforts, he would like to see less “activism” and more education on both sides of uranium development. Moore said he was confused about the purpose of the task force stating that he saw it more as a collected effort to protest uranium mining.

“I’m concerned about the activism,” Moore said. “When I first looked at the Blue Ribbon Task force, I thought it would be more about education and looking at both sides of uranium development and not just the bad side of it.”

Moore then went on to cite that there are always dangers when it comes to developing natural resources, but that it’s not always “all bad.” He suggested that the task force look at both sides, rather than just be one-sided.

Presenter and supporter of the Blue Ribbon Task Force, Jenene Yazzie, said the task force’s main goal is to create a collaborated effort to educate and inform the general public of the adverse effects uranium mining has had on residents of McKinley County. Yazzie addressed the board, stating that the collected effort has been spurred on the behalf of impacted communities.

“We know that historic uranium development, both min ing and milling has caused significant damage to our coun ty’s natural resources, especially to our air, water and soil,” Yazzie said. “We know that, despite technological advancements, contemporary uranium development still has a poor record of preventing and cleaning up radioactive and toxic contamination. We are still saddled with sites that have not been remedied.”

Commissioner Bill Lee noted that while there are benefits of uranium development, the adverse effects it has on our environment can last for decades. Lee reaffirmed his support of the formation of the task force and told Yazzie that county buildings are available should they need them.

Lee then asked to be kept in the loop on any development regarding the task force stating that he was not getting their emails.

“For the past several months, this group has struggled to maintain meetings and members,” he said. “There’s been a lot of changes and I don’t know if I’m included in the emails, but I know that there’s been a reorganization in the group, so I would like to be included in updates. Cleanup of the sites must be done and I’m glad to see that you’re committed to collecting data, committed to this group, but I would like to see consistency in this group.”

Yazzie and Percy Anderson responded by saying that they have included Lee in all correspondence and have even visited him in his office once or twice before but they never seem to get a response from Lee. Anderson and Lee said they would ensure they have the other’s current email address.

“I would just really like to have this commission’s support,” Anderson said.

Lee said the commission has already pledged its support, but maintains the board will not create or run the task force.

There has been much confusion as to what the commission’s role is in the task force since they have pledged their support. We’d like to see this confusion cleared up once and for all so that the task force can carry out their research, data collection and outreach efforts for the benefit of the community. And if the involvement of county commissioners can help them do that, we’d like to see the commission take on a more involved role.

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