Reader View: Pollution, poison and PNM cover-up

I love the land I call home. Waterflow, N.M., is a farming community downstream from Public Service Company of New Mexico’s San Juan Generating Station. When the coal plant arrived in the 1970s, people started getting sick, and I’ve been battling the pollution of our air and water ever since.

Three members of my family and two of our neighbors have died from contamination, I believe. This land — where for generations, people drank and irrigated with well water — is now a cancer cluster. Those who survive struggle with infertility, miscarriages, learning disabilities, autism, vision loss, hormonal disturbances and other ramifications of heavy metal poisoning.

I’m living proof that there’s nothing cheap about coal. My 1,400 sheep are dead proof. Coal combustion waste has lead, mercury, arsenic, sulfates and other heavy metals — and though PNM operates under a Zero Discharge Permit, the billions of gallons of water used by the plant each year leaked. Soon after the company arrived, the Shumway Arroyo, long dry, began to flow. PNM discharged wastewater and buried coal ash in the dry streambeds starting in 1975. The waste leached into our underground aquifers, and it didn’t take long for us to get sick.

I’d like to ask members of our Public Regulation Commission — who will review a replacement power plan in an upcoming hearing — this question. Will you continue to allow PNM to get away with polluting air and water and externalizing health and environmental costs to ratepayers?

By 1982, I was having persistent muscle spasms. I lost 80 pounds in a year and was hospitalized and diagnosed with heavy metal poisoning. I remember — excuse the image — that what came out of me was pure boiling acid. I just prayed I could raise my kids. My wife at the time was sick, too. We noticed a lack of clarity and focus, and our children’s and our hair thickened and fell out, like the fur of animals left in the desert to die. Two days before Christmas that year, PNM offered a Good Neighbor’s Agreement and $2,500 to families in the area. They never admitted to contamination, and I never took that check.

Today more than 40 million tons of coal combustion waste have been dumped in the San Juan Mine, and I keep fighting. My life is tied to my farm. A few times a year I visit the Bisti Badlands, where I own a small parcel of land. I go to acknowledge Mother Earth and Father Sky, count my blessings and fortify myself for another day. Once my son asked: Why do you always stand there and look toward Shiprock? And I tell him — because it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve seen, and this land gives me meaning.

The PRC has the power to end this crash course. Let us close the coal plant and invest in cheaper, cleaner renewables.

Raymond G. Hunt Jr., or Squeek, has operated his family’s agricultural business in Waterflow, N.M., since he was a teenager. He issued a statement for the EPA’s Coal Combustion Session in 2004 and testified before the Congressional Subcommittee on Energy and Environment in 2009. He is a sheep rancher who also runs a slaughterhouse and retail store.

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