According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, about 80 percent of the electricity in New Mexico is generated each year by burning coal. The irony is that the dominant anti-nuclear group in New Mexico, Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC), has shown no evidence of denouncing coal consumption. According to Don Hancock, an SRIC Administrator who directs the non-profit organization’s Nuclear Waste Safety Program, the group’s “spiritual mentor” is John W. Gofman. The former nuclear physicist is an aging, eccentric author who was discredited by the Atomic Energy Commission and was branded by the nuclear power industry as “beyond the pale of reasonable communication.” As a kind gesture, Hancock gave us a copy of a Gofman “cartoon book,” whose theme revolves around Thoreau’s essay, “Civil Disobedience.” Another cosmic ally is Amory B. Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute, a favorite Don Hancock icon.
While Gofman championed solar energy in his hey day, Lovins presently espouses hydrogen as a primary solution for transportation, wind, and increasing efficiency through natural gas. However, neither wind power nor solar energy is a relevant energy source in New Mexico. Hydroelectricity supplies about 0.7 percent of New Mexico’s electricity generation. Despite the hoopla and hyperbole, all of other renewable energy sources combined supply New Mexico with a mere 0.6 percent of its electricity. Coal is, in a very big way, the overwhelming reason why New Mexicans are not living in darkness and without heat or air conditioning domino.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, about 2400 people die every year from the air pollution caused from each million tons of sulfur dioxide emitted. In 1999, it is estimated that over 1.05 billion tons were produced, releasing 11.856 million tons of sulfur oxides and more than 5 million tons of nitrous oxides. Having personally inspected the first floor library of SRIC headquarters, no anti-coal mining literature was discovered. There appears to be scant fund-raising interest from these environmental activists to close down New Mexico’s large coal mines. In fact, more U.S. coal mining deaths were reported in 2005 than deaths from uranium mining (zero). StockInterview.com heard no worries at SRIC over the blackening of coal miner’s lungs, but the staff appeared very concerned over the radon gas emitted from uranium mining. Uranium mining in New Mexico came to a standstill about twenty years ago. Coal mining continues as it has for seven decades.
Don’t expect the coal mines of New Mexico to be closed any time soon, though. No matter how deadly coal mines are, coal production is irreplaceable at this time. According to the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, tax revenues from coal in 2001 exceeded $30 million. Nearly one-half of the state’s energy needs are met through coal-generated power. The coal industry employed 1,800 people in 2001. New Mexico is the country’s leader for methane gas production from coal beds. Coal is the state’s third largest source of revenues.
An EPA Toxic Release Inventory report published in 2000 reported that two power plants and their coal mines in New Mexico’s San Juan County released 13 million pounds of chemical toxins into the Four Corner’s area (New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado). It was also reported that 6.5 million tons of solid waste was buried by the two San Juan County power plants on their sites or at nearby coal mines. Those airborne toxins were minuscule compared to over 300 million pounds of other emissions, such as particulates and nitrogen dioxide released into the air, and which can travel for hundreds of miles. Reports confirm those power plants were among the worst polluters in the United States. The eighth worst emitter was Giant Refining, about 17 miles from Gallup, New Mexico, which emitted 608,000 pounds according to the EPA report. Any visitor to the Gallup area can readily smell the stench circulating in the air.
Does Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr Have Double Standards?
Why haven’t the Navajo banned coal mining on the reservation as they have uranium mining? According to Anna Frazier, a Navajo affiliated with a local environmental group, “Our Navajo Nation is certainly not going to do that. They would rather have the revenues coming in from the coal companies and the power plants.” According to a news report published in Indian Country newspaper, “The Navajo Nation receives the bulk of its annual $100 million operating expenses from royalties, leases and taxes from its coal, oil and gas. These revenues provide operational expenses for the tribal government, including the salaries of the 88-member Navajo Nation Council, the tribe’s annual budgets show.”
For more than 35 years, Peabody Energy has operated massive mines on Navajo territory. The closure of one such coal mine, the Black Mesa, sent the Navajos rushing for their Maalox. Ironically, it was environmental activists that forced Southern California Edison to close their Mojave Generating Station nearly 300 miles away in Laughlin, Nevada. The utility was given a choice: cough up $1 billion to stop polluting the Grand Canyon or shut it down. It had been called “one of the dirtiest coal plants in the West,” and air emissions from that plant reportedly polluted half a dozen other national parks in the Southwest. But, that coal mine provided about 15 percent of the Navajo’s annual budget. George Hardeen, the Navajo president’s media voice, complained about the mine closing last October, “This is going to have a terrible effect on this entire region because the Navajo economy is so fragile.”
John Dougherty complained about the Navajo Nation’s tactics in the Phoenix New Times newspaper in March 2005, observing, “Environmental groups have long exploited the Native American tradition of sacred places to fight their battles to preserve wilderness areas…It’s always the soulful Native American who steps forward as the high priest of sacred geography. In the background lurks the environmentalist equipped with charts and data on tree-trunk diameters and spotted-owl nesting sites.” Dougherty concluded, “The cries of environmental destruction and cultural murder from Navajo and Hopi leaders ring hollow.”
What are not going to be ringing at all will be the cash registers at Albertsons supermarket in Bullhead City, near Laughlin (Nevada), which closed down this week. That’s because the Mojave power station closed as advertised because of the dirty Black Mesa coal. Mike Conner, president of the Bullhead Area Chamber of Commerce, said, “The community will be devastated.” Across the river in Laughlin, Buddy Borden of the University of Nevada at Reno told a group of community leaders the area “will take an almost $21 million hit” in lost power plant payrolls. The facility will lay off 375 employees, who had an average annual wage of $87,000. Like dominoes falling, jobs in Nevada, Arizona and in the Navajo Nation were lost.
Recently, Navajo president Joe Shirley Jr. considered replacing budget shortfalls with casinos, four in Nevada and two in New Mexico. Last March, Senator John McCain forecast the Navajo casinos would fail because of their remote locations. Shirley quipped back in the Arizona Republic newspaper, “I beg to differ with him.” One coal mine that won’t be on the Navajo reservation is the first to receive an operating permit in six years. Peabody Energy announced a coal mine on Lee Ranch, one of New Mexico’s largest landowners. It is projected to produce 102 million tons of coal over the next thirty years.