What it’s like to live in an industry sacrifice zone

Rose Gardner, Lea County resident

As I look to the east of town at night, it looks like a prison or an airport, something of importance.

Initially the lights were white, then some yellow ones were added years later, and now I can see red blinking lights, the signs of industrial activity where there used to be almost none. The area is about 5 miles from my house, but all activities in the area are of Urenco, the uranium-enrichment facility, Waste Control Specialists-ISP, the nuclear dump that is on the other side of the Texas state line from Urenco, and then there are the new windmills on the Texas side. Then there is the ever-present Lea County landfill for all of the Lea County communities and now a new Loves Truckstop.

Some people call it economic diversity for Lea County, N.M. I call it a paradox. I recall the days when I would see a calm and dry desert scene common in this area, with cows and the occasional coyote or rabbit. I remember when the basic jobs picture involved oil and gas extraction and all the necessary ancillary businesses required for that industry.

Now I find myself going from one environmental fight to another. I tried fighting off Urenco, after it had been run off from Louisiana and Tennessee because they weren’t wanted there. I tried fighting Waste Control Specialists when they wanted their low-level nuclear-waste license. I spoke against the changes that the Department of Energy wanted to make on waste volume and expansion at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (even as I recall the fire and waste explosion in 2014), about 37 miles from my house, and now I fight the proposed Holtec International project sited 35 miles from my home near WIPP.

Holtec seeks to bring 173,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste from around the country and even possibly from overseas. They talk of possible reprocessing of the waste in the future. I am also fighting the high-level nuclear waste license application by WCS-ISP, which wants to bring 40,000 tons of high-level commercial waste to a site just on the other side of the Texas border from us. Interestingly, both applications are being considered simultaneously.

The draft Environmental Impact Statement on both Holtec and WCS-ISP claim there will be small impacts to the area, to jobs, to people, yet no one really knows since this will be an experiment that hasn’t been done anywhere on anyone else. I feel especially indignant about these two projects because of their proximity to me and my family.

My community in Eunice is small, about 2,700 people, and yet we are disproportionately bearing the brunt of health impacts if these projects go forward. Are we considered expendable? Is the idea “Someone has to do this, so why not here”? Is it our patriotic duty to suffer the known and unknown illnesses that come with living near a high-risk nuclear dump or facility?

We live in the county with the highest cancer rate in New Mexico. We live with the risks associated with oil and gas emissions, and many live with allergies and asthma, like my two grandchildren. How much more should we be required to take for the economy to be diversified enough to satisfy the money whoremongers? I do not consent to be a guinea pig for these companies, nor will I consent to be the national sacrifice area for high-level nuclear waste generated elsewhere and sent to poison me and my family.

Take Action
The NRC is accepting comments on Holtec through September 22 at Holtec-CISFEIS@nrc.gov and through September 4 on ISP/WCS at WCS_CISF_EIS@nrc.gov.

Read more about this issue here.

Rose Gardner chairs weekly meetings of activists protecting their community from harmful pollution impacts.
Featured image from from World Resource Simulation Center

What it’s like to live in an industry sacrifice zone
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