February 5, 2023

Bill focused on remediation of San Juan Generating Station, mine passes committee

Hannah Grover

The final day of operations at San Juan Generating Station

State Rep. Anthony Allison spoke about the uranium contamination that has impacted Navajo and Pueblo communities, including leading to increased cancer rates and groundwater contamination. He said with the closing of the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station and its associated coal mine, it is important not to make the same mistakes that were made with the uranium mines.

Allison, a Democrat from Fruitland, has sponsored House Bill 142, which would require the state’s environment department and the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department to oversee remediation and reclamation efforts. This would include evaluating current conditions and developing a plan for remediation and reclamation. It also includes regular reports to the Legislature, including a remediation and restoration study that would be due by July 1, 2025. The entities will be allowed to contract with outside professionals to assist in developing that study.

House Bill 142 passed the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee on a 5-3 vote on Saturday after the committee heard public comment given last week. In between, a committee substitute involved significant rewriting. 

Rep. Larry Scott, R-Hobbs, questioned whether the bill was necessary considering past oversight of the facilities as well as federal mining laws.

Allison said the main reason behind his bill was because he has seen the impacts of uranium mines in his district that were not properly cleaned up.

He said his final wish for the bill is to ensure that reclamation is done similar to the remediation of the La Plata Mine, which previously provided coal to the San Juan Generating Station. Allison said that he was involved in those remediation efforts, which have received international attention.

“The trees started growing, the animals started coming back,” Allison said.

Rep. James Townsend, R-Artesia, said the La Plata Mine was cleaned up and everyone was happy with it under existing laws.

“What makes this so unique that it needs a special law?” Townsend asked.

Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, noted that the committee substitute led to several sections being deleted that were in the original bill, including civil and criminal actions.

New Energy Economy Executive Director Mariel Nanasi, who served as an expert witness, said that authority already exists so that language is not necessary.

Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, expressed concerns that the bill was specific to just one generating station and one mine and would not have statewide implications. Townsend also pointed to this and questioned if the legislation is constitutional.

Nanasi said that the state constitution does not prohibit such legislation because a general law could not apply.

“I have done the research on that,” she said.

The San Juan Generating Station is a couple miles away from the San Juan River and the Shumway Arroyo that runs nearby transports rainwater to the river. Nanasi spoke about past dumping of wastewater into the Shumway Arroyo. This is one of the arguments she brought to the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission when arguing that the power plant owner, the Public Service Company of New Mexico, should have to pay for that remediation and reclamation rather than passing the costs off onto customers. The PRC ultimately ruled that the Energy Transition Act did not give the state regulators that option.

If water contamination was to occur, it would primarily impact Navajo Nation residents. The diversions that supply major metropolitan areas like Albuquerque with water are upstream of the power plant. 

The bill now heads to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.