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Reader View: Leaders can’t sacrifice community for energy

By May 17, 2016December 1st, 2022Climate & Energy, Tribal, Uranium Mining & Waste

Published in the Santa Fe New Mexican
Last year our nation’s leaders called for landmark action nationwide to reduce carbon pollution through the Clean Power Plan. It’s clear that unified action is sorely needed to curb the worst impacts of climate change. However, one of the solutions proposed in the plan is extremely problematic for New Mexico: the plan identifies nuclear energy as one of four carbon-neutral energy platforms that it encourages states to adopt.
At the same time, Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration unveiled its vision for New Mexico’s energy future — dubbed the “state energy plan.” The plan directs decision-making bodies across the state to adopt a slate of policies to prop up fossil fuels, from exporting coal to more natural gas. The plan also calls for expanding New Mexico’s Renewable Portfolio Standard after 2020 to include nuclear energy as a solution to carbon pollution.
Communities like mine, Gallup and Church Rock, know all too well that the life cycle of nuclear energy is far from clean. That’s because northwestern New Mexico was a key corner of uranium mining and milling from the 1940s until the 1980s, and is home to more than 259 uranium mines. Shockingly, an astounding 137 of those mines have no record of cleanup. As a result, our families are plagued daily with exposure to radioactive tailings piles, mining waste and equipment left behind after the mining boom turned bust.
This is especially true among the indigenous communities of the Southwest. We have witnessed our culture, spirituality, health, communities and land be desecrated and sacrificed in the name of extractive industry — an industry that we do not want, as demonstrated by a ban on uranium mining passed by the Navajo Nation in 2005.
“We are exercising our right to live our sustainable lifestyles in our own lands,” said Tom Goldtooth, executive director of Indigenous Environmental Network. “The nuclear industry, which has waged an undeclared war, has poisoned our communities worldwide. For more than 50 years, the legacy of the nuclear chain, from exploration to waste, has been proven, through documentation, to be genocidal and ethnocidal and a most deadly enemy of Indigenous Peoples.”
Yet, policies like the Clean Power Plan and Martinez’s energy plan call for decision-makers to again sacrifice people by pushing for further investment in coal and nuclear energy. Furthermore, the voices at the table shaping those plans do not include the communities that have been living with the impacts of poor energy policy. As a result, those that are at the table aren’t talking about the horrific legacy of uranium mining, and how we should be instead creating a different vision for New Mexico’s future.
This is a defining moment for all of us. We can break the cycle of devastation and harm that one-sided policies have created in our communities by choosing another road. Together we must push the state to adopt a vision for our energy future that is developed by the people. If our leaders truly care about creating a healthier New Mexico for all, they need to demonstrate their commitment to change by working with communities to develop solutions. The first step is to listen.
Talia Boyd, born and raised on the Diné Nation, works as the Western New Mexico organizer for Conservation Voters New Mexico Education Fund.