It is with deep gratitude for all the activists, organizers and community leaders from San Juan County who worked to make this happen that we announce that HB 142, the San Juan Generating Station and Mine Remediation Act has been signed by the Governor and officially chaptered as the law of the land in New Mexico! Our gratitude to the Sponsors, Representatives Anthony Allison, Reena Szczepanski and Marian Matthews and Senator Pinto - and to community organizers and leaders, especially Chili Yazzie, who was the moral torchbearer for this bill and was a-leave-no-stone-unturned advocate, and Sterling Grogan who lent his expertise and made a strong and sincere impression on legislators. There was wonderful teamwork that went into making this bill become law; we want to give a special shout out to Representative Allison who was a shining star and said in the beginning we are going to do this and he was right! Recent industry data demonstrate that 92 percent of coal ash ponds are polluting the underlying groundwater to levels that exceed federal drinking water standards. Evidence shows that independent oversight and proactive remediation of this toxic legacy is a necessary final step in the transition away from coal power.
PNM, as the operator and the largest owner of the San Juan coal plant estimates that over 60 million tons of coal ash was produced and disposed of in unlined pits. Since 2014 there have been 22 major discharges of contaminants into the Earth; one of the major discharges included, in 2021, a spillage of 1 million gallons of toxic chemicals. Failure to isolate coal ash waste and other coal plant pollution from water will result in leaching of contaminants, which will poison the water and negatively impact the environment and public health. The pressing problem of how to clean up these contaminated sites is a high-stakes question for communities living near coal plants and downstream. This law will prevent foreseeable harm.
The independent comprehensive study required by HB 142 will be performed by environmental engineers, hydrologists, and geologists, and will determine the extent of the contamination at the recently shuttered San Juan Generating Station and mine site, followed by work with the community to devise a proposed cleanup plan. Once completed, this comprehensive evaluation, remediation and restoration plan will be presented to the legislature and will be made public. Yearly progress reports to the legislature will be made until the site of the plant and mine are restored.
Contaminated water spewing into the Earth, directly south from the coal plant, San Juan Generating Station.
New Energy Economy has been contacted by advocates in other states who seek to replicate this important legislation to protect their communities from the toxic legacy of the many coal plants slated to close their doors in the near future. As Representative Allison put it “We made history! We set a national precedent that other states can follow for an improved environment and for the benefit of lives and livelihoods. The primary purpose of this bill was prevention of further contamination of our Mother Earth!"
When our friend Chili heard the news he said “I had to jump off my tractor to dance around in the dirt! We are elated that HB 142 has been chaptered by the Governor. I am proud of my Representative Allison and my Senator Pinto for championing such an important bill that sends multiple strong messages 1) our farmers will be assured that the contamination left by the San Juan Generating Station operators will not migrate into our watershed and precious San Juan River 2) this protects our children and future generations 3) holds the polluters accountable and 4) offers job opportunities for displaced miners and plant workers in the remediation and restoration process. New Mexico has demonstrated leadership in approving legislation that can be replicated in other states. We are indebted to New Energy Economy, to expert witnesses, and all those who supported our efforts.”
We congratulate the community organizers and community members who have been demanding comprehensive cleanup for years -- Congratulations and thank you for your vision and leadership!