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Know the West

The Latest: Mt. Taylor uranium mines still haunt Navajo communities


The controversy surrounding Mount Taylor -- a volcano in northwest New Mexico sacred to several tribes -- began in 2008, when the tribes sought to protect it from further uranium mining ("Dueling Claims," HCN, 12/7/09). After contamination from the mines sickened workers, they fought to have 400,000 acres of federal, state and private lands designated as "traditional cultural property," which raises the level of scrutiny for development proposals. That sparked heated debate among other locals who feared being locked out and led to a spate of violence against Navajos. Despite rulings supporting the designation, the wounds continue to fester.

On July 22, Santa Fe District Judge Raymond Ortiz overturned a state ruling that would have renewed a permit for an inactive uranium mine within the traditional cultural property area on Mount Taylor, filed by General Atomics. Ortiz ruled that the state failed to provide adequate opportunities for public comment, noting that General Atomics' report on the mine's economic viability should have been made public. The mine renewal process will now be re-opened for public comment.