March 10, 2023

Bill to address concerns about contamination at San Juan mine, generating station advances

Hannah Grover

The final day of operations at San Juan Generating Station

A bill that would increase state oversight of the remediation of the San Juan Generating Station and the San Juan Mine passed the Senate Finance Committee on a 8-0 vote.

HB 142 now heads to the Senate floor. 

Bill sponsor Rep. Anthony Allison, D-Fruitland, said the bill is important to protect people, especially residents of Navajo Nation, from potential water contamination in the future. He highlighted the legacy of pollution that the Nation continues to face from industries that have left the communities including uranium mining operations.

The power plant and coal mine closed last year and remediation efforts are underway at the mine. The San Juan County Commission earlier this week approved a plan to demolish the power plant and remediate the site.

Allison said the main purpose of HB 142 is prevention. It requires analysis and a clean up plan to ensure that toxic components don’t leach into the groundwater or reach waterways. 

The power plant and mine are located north of the San Juan River and west of the Town of Kirtland. Arroyos like the Shumway Arroyo could potentially carry contaminants from the sites to the river just upstream of the Navajo reservation boundary. 

The Public Service Company of New Mexico, which owns the power plant, is monitoring the groundwater along the Shumway Arroyo and is bound by a court consent decree to continue to do so, according to a demolition and remediation plan that the utility submitted to San Juan County.

Duane “Chili” Yazzie, a farmer from Shiprock, served as the expert witness on the bill. Yazzie has long been a critic of the power plant and has expressed concerns about its impact on the environment.

He said the greatest driving force that has inspired him to do the work he’s done is concern for the “earth that we borrowed from our children.”

“Much of the damage that has been done appears to be unsurmountable,” he said. “This is one concern that is within our power to do something about.”

He said farmers draw irrigation water from the San Juan River. 

He expressed concerns that coal ash contamination could impact the watershed and the river and he described that as a “nightmare I implore you to let go away.”

Should HB 142 pass the Senate, it will head to the governor’s desk.