[Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post stated that the New Mexico Mining and Minerals Department was to deliver its decision on this matter on September 1. The New Mexico Environmental Law Center contacted ICTMN with the information that September 1 is the cut-off date for comment on the permit. The article has been corrected.]
Rio Grande Resources Corporation is seeking to extend the standby permit issued in 2005 for its Mt. Taylor Uranium Mine in western New Mexico. The mine has been shuttered since 1990 due to the low price of uranium but the company believes it might resume mining operations in the near future. New Mexico mining laws require the company to apply for a standby permit every five years for a maximum of 25 years.
Mt. Taylor is a sacred site for the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, and the Pueblos of Zuni, Acoma, and Laguna, and in 2009 tribes secured “traditional cultural property” status for the top of the mountain. The mine is not included in the designated area, but the designation, according to a Greenwire post at NYTimes.com, “allows tribes to have greater input in development decisions on Mount Taylor, but it does not prohibit development.”
At a hearing last week, environmentalists, tribal leaders, and elected officials voiced their concerns before state regulators who will decide whether to issue a new standby permit. David Ulibarri, a state Senator, testified that “The mine has proved to be a safe site for many years,” as quoted at NYTimes.com, and touted its possible reopening as a development with “tremendous potential for bringing economic viability back” to western New Mexico.
But Steve Juanico of Acoma Pueblo, which is located 20 miles southeast of the mine site, felt that the environmental risks were not worth the potential reward. “Everybody’s fighting for survival — we need that economic viability,” he said at the hearing, according to NYTimes.com. “But it’s short lived. … We really need to protect our water resources. Are we doing the right thing?”
A Santa Fe Reporter article about the hearing went into more detail about Juanico’s concerns: Several of his family members have died of cancer and he suspects the mine may have been a cause. “We have yet to identify the causes of cancer in the majority of people who passed on here,” he said.
The Santa Fe Reporter article quoted mine manager Joe Lister as saying the mine could employ up to 1,000 workers.
The New Mexico Mining and Minerals Department is accepting public comment on the permit application up until Thursday, Sept. 1. It will issue its decision on the matter sometime thereafter.