Posted: Monday, January 12, 2015 9:00 pm
By Anna Marie Rondon
As a tribal member of Navajo Nation, I share the concerns of others about Public Service Company of New Mexico continuing its dependence on coal and nuclear and the impacts that will have on our people.
I am concerned about the asthma and lung disease caused by burning coal and the contamination of coal ash to our water and air. I also want to draw attention to the part of PNM’s plan for the energy future that relies on more nuclear power. Of course, we know that nuclear power is risky and expensive. There’s a reason nuclear energy isn’t viable without massive government subsidies and taxpayer-funded liability insurance. And the decommissioning costs for a single nuclear plant would bankrupt many countries.
But beyond financial considerations, nuclear energy fundamentally violates the laws and beliefs of the Navajo people. Navajo law recognizes that some substances of the Earth are harmful to people and should not be disturbed. Navajo law specifically recognizes uranium as one such substance.
It is well-known that the Navajo have suffered as a result of uranium mining and processing over the past 70 or 80 years — the impacts on the health of uranium workers, the permanent sacrifice of our water supplies, and the harmful effects of air and water contamination on whole communities.
As a result, almost 10 years ago, our nation instituted a ban on uranium mining and processing. It is deeply disturbing that any of the Public Regulation commissioners would support a plan by PNM that relies so heavily on nuclear power derived from the very resource that has damaged our people so severely.
I have been working on uranium exposure issues since 1978 in indigenous communities in the Southwest and on Diné (Navajo) lands. We also helped craft, with former Navajo Nation President Peterson Zah, the first uranium mining moratorium for the Navajo Nation in 1992.
Most of the Public Regulation Commission members don’t represent communities affected by uranium or coal, so they have to work a little harder to imagine the devastating impacts of dirty coal and nuclear energy on a community. But ask yourself whether you would prefer to live next to a solar or wind farm or in the shadow of a coal plant or a uranium mine. If you’re honest with yourselves, then I think we all agree which energy path we should choose. It’s only fair.
If the PNM executives had to live within a mile of the energy plants that they make so much money from, then there would be no coal and nuclear plants. The rich don’t like pollution, contamination, ugliness; we don’t either.
There are negative economic consequences and risks of coal and nuclear. Especially when there is little issue with the affordability, safety and reliability of wind and solar, why wouldn’t the PRC choose these resources for the utility? Renewable energy is a win-win-win for our economy, for public health and for consumers, not to mention our vulnerable climate.
The impacts of the PRC’s decision will be felt by another generation or more of Navajo. Of my people. And we have suffered enough.
Anna Marie Rondon of Vanderwagen is a Diné woman who has been working on social and environmental issues for years — from the Alcatraz takeover to today for justice and seeking equal protection for all life. She is a community planner and public health advocate.