Open pit uranium mine in Grants, N.M., around 1968. (Photo courtesy the U.S. Department of Energy )
A bill in the Legislature would mobilize state government to finally clean up a reported 1,100 uranium mining, milling and drilling sites that are contaminating state and tribal lands and waters.
The legislation would direct the New Mexico Environment Department to coordinate efforts to clean and reclaim the sites. It’s a matter complicated by overlapping jurisdictions and mine ownership that’s difficult to trace, according to a report from the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of New Mexico.
The bill, scheduled to be heard Wednesday night in committee, also touts the potential economic benefits of training and hiring a new workforce for remediation of the radioactive material. The report cited a possible allocation of $1 billion controlled by the Environmental Protection Agency for cleanup on and near Navajo Nation land in New Mexico and Arizona.
In addition to charging the state’s Environment Department with coordinating cleanup, the bill also directs the Economic Development and Workforce Solutions Departments to establish uranium reclamation as a target for growth, plus build a repository mapping all mine and mill sites.
Sponsors are seeking $350,000 to fund the program’s first-year operating expenses, though they say they hope the state could find money elsewhere, like the EPA or other uranium mine settlements, to fund site remediation and job training, according to the bill.
A report compiled by the independent Legislative Finance Committee found that the State Land Office has identified extensive uranium contamination on state trust land. There are also more than 500 abandoned uranium mines on or near the Navajo Nation, remnants of a time when nearly 30 million tons of uranium ore was extracted between 1944 and 1986, according to the EPA.
The bill is sponsored by Sen. Jeff Steinborn (D-Las Cruces), Rep. Anthony Allison (D-Fruitland), Rep. Wonda Johnson (D-Rehoboth) and Rep. Debra Sariñana (D-Albuquerque).
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.