McKinley County residents push County Commission to create Blue Ribbon Task Force on uranium mining

By Talia Boyd, Western NM Director

On March 14, 2017, during a special meeting held by the McKinley County Commission, community stood together and packed the room from wall to wall to ask their County Commissioners to pas

Western NM Director Talia Boyd testified in front of the McKinley County Commission during a packed March 14 special hearing. Photo by Molly Sanders/CVNMEF

s stronger protections from new proposed uranium mines. Every single community member who
testified stated strong support for a proposed ordinance asking for a three-year county
moratorium on uranium mining and the significant need for a government-recognized health baseline that will help decision-makers understand the impacts that mining has on the health of families and people. This effort also included exploring additional safeguards to protect communities from the impacts of mining, and made space for community to discuss potential impacts of new mining.

The special meeting was organized in response to a violation of the Open Meetings Act of an earlier January 2017 meeting in which the County voted on alternatives to the moratorium and proposed ordinance with no public notice. Community leaders and advocates were stunned to find out that the Commission failed to adequately notify the public, and also quietly rearranged the agenda to curtail public attendance: the original meeting was moved from January 10th to January 3rd at the last minute. This left the communities that were pushing for the moratorium completely out of the process.

The ordinance was introduced to the Commission in November of 2016, and was championed by McKinley County Commissioner Genevieve Jackson. Almost immediately, we received push back from the State Land Office, the uranium industry, and the Cibola Economic office who submitted letters in opposition to the ordinance, successfully intimidating the McKinley County Commission. In response,
instead of adopting the moratorium at the January 3rd meeting, the McKinley County Commission adopted a toothless resolution that directed citizens to contact federal and state authorities about uranium concerns. However, this does nothing to help since our communities have already established working relationships with federal and state entities like the Environmental Protection Agency, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and New Mexico Environment Department. After hearing ample comment from community at the special meeting, the Commission promised to create a Blue Ribbon Task Force to begin examining the cumulative impacts from uranium mining.

Moving forward, McKinley County community members are urging the Commission to keep their promise for an active Blue Ribbon Task Force. Community members are holding the commission
accountable to their word by submitting a letter asking the Commission to fashion a formal
resolution creating the uranium task force and its mandate. The uranium task force is a start for gathering and evaluating information and data about the health, natural resource, and economic
impacts that proposed uranium mining would have on the residents in McKinley County. A county task force could analyze this information and make policy proposals to the Commission that would best protect the county’s resources and public health.  If you live in McKinley County and want to be involved, contact Western NM Director Talia Boyd.